Sisters in Spirit Vigil draws support
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
On Monday, October 4, community members gathered at the former Queen Elizabeth District High School track for the Sisters in Spirit Vigil to honour the memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people. The gathering concluded a week of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day events held throughout the community. Similar vigils took place in communities across the country. The event was held with the support of Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre, Sunset Woman’s Aboriginal Circle, First Step Women’s Shelter, Northwestern Health Unit, Ah-shawah-bin Victim Support Services, St. Andrew’s United Church Ontario, Ontario Native Women’s Association, and Nahnahda-Wee-ee-Waywin.
After introductions by Jennifer Thomas (Executive Director, Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre), Crystal Harrison Collin (Nishnawbe-Gamik Health and Wellness Worker) read from a 2010 statement released by the National Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), Amnesty International Canada, The Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Labour Congress, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, the National Association of Friendship Centres, and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
The statement reads, in part, “October 4th is a day to honour the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. The Sisters in Spirit Vigil movement for social change began with the courage, strength and love of families who suffered the loss of a sister, daughter, mother, grandmother or friend. As of March 31st, 2010, NWAC has found 582 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. As Canadians we should ask ourselves why so many of our Aboriginal sisters are treated as a statistic.” The full statement can be found here https://bit.ly/2YutKNQ.
Romaine Wesley, Elder for the Sunset Women’s Aboriginal Circle, finished the opening remarks with a traditional song known as the Warrior Woman’s Song. As Wesley later explained, “That was a song of a warrior woman. One of her sisters were missing, and it came to her because it helped her with her grieving heart. She received the song in a dream, you know when you dream and you hear the message right at the end of the dream? That’s what that song was for, for her to help her sister to find her way home. That’s what that song was about.”
With formal introductions completed, and the sun getting low in the west, those gathered were offered candles and invited to take a candle-lit walk around the track, where placards had been placed at regular intervals. Each placard bore the image and story of one missing or murdered Indigenous woman, and participants were encouraged to stop and contemplate what these memorials represented in terms of real human loss, not just to the victims themselves, but to the families and loved ones they left behind.
The Sisters in Spirit initiative is a program led by the Native Woman’s Association of Canada. The initiative was created in 2005 as a way to research and document statistics of violence against Indigenous women in Canada. As the Global Database for Violence Against Women states, in part, “The Sisters in Spirit initiative…supports activities aimed at quantifying the number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, identifying trends, understanding the root causes of violence and underlying factors contributing to racialized and sexualized violence, and influencing policy, programs and services meant to eliminate violence. The Sisters in Spirit initiative will develop a comprehensive policy strategy for work at both national and international levels on issues relating to Aboriginal women’s human rights.”
As the Canadian Government’s Department of Justice website (bit.ly/3mxaBmv), dated 2017, reveals, Indigenous women self-reported sexual assault rates that were triple that of non-Indigenous women, while self-reported spousal abuse rates are also listed as three times higher than non-Indigenous women. The website for Statistics Canada, lists a report dated 2021, (bit.ly/3oP0qMy) which shows 42 per cent of Indigenous women reported experiencing physical assault from an intimate partner, while 43 per cent reported physical assault by another person.