The movement to find out whatever happened to Canada’s growing list of over 520 missing and/or murdered Aboriginal women is taking off.
This year, the Cree Indian Centre of Chibougamau (CICC) successfully pulled off their event to remember those sisters whose stories are missing endings and whose government is not looking for them.
The vigils were started by the Sisters in Spirit initiative, which was created under the Native Women’s Association of Canada to improve the human rights of Aboriginal women and address the violence facing Aboriginal women. On October 4, they organized vigils across the country to raise awareness and remember those sisters who might only be there in spirit but are certainly not forgotten.
This year an incredible 72 events were pulled off in 69 different cities across Canada.
“These are events that need a grassroots involvement because the issue is too important to have it always coming from an organization. There are too many individuals and families who are touched by this reality for it to be a collective doing this for them,” said Jo-Anne Toulouse, the CICC’s executive director.
Toulouse said that the CICC wanted to put on a candlelit vigil at night to serve as a reminder that the Centre is a candle in the dark of many lives and that they are there to support and help people stand up for their rights.
Though Toulouse said their event most likely looked like many across Canada, that was the point.
“The important thing was that we were here, we were present, we were speaking for people of our Nation and our communities who need to be spoken for and the community responded very well,” said Toulouse.
Approximately 40 people met at the CCIC on the evening of October 4. From there Toulouse described how the group went outside and formed a circle where the candles were passed around and each person lit the next person’s candle to be able to create that chain.
From there emerged a circle of light. While in the circle, the CICC read a declaration describing the needs for various actions that they had written for the occasion based on the message of the Sisters in Spirit initiative.
The declaration read:
• recognize that the violence faced by Aboriginal women is because they are Aboriginal and because they are women;
• ensure effective and unbiased police response through appropriate training, resources and coordination;
• improve public awareness and accountability through the consistent collection and publication of comprehensive national statistics on rates of violence crimes against Aboriginal women;
• reduce the risk to Aboriginal women by closing the economic and social gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.
The group then marched through the streets of Chibougamau, candles in hand. While they walked, people from various different communities spoke, including Chibougamau mayor Donald Bubar, Bianca Albert from Waswanipi and a representative from the local women’s shelter.
Toulouse said that as the group traveled to each of the four cardinal points of the city of Chibougamau, they would stop for a moment and a different individual would speak until they reached the final point for a moment of silence and reflection.
“What was important for us was to let people know that there is a safety net and it is consists of community members and community organizations that are there to reassure them,” said Toulouse.
Jean-Eudes Bolduc, the political attaché for Bloc Québécois MP Yvon Lévesque, attended the vigil and delivered a copy of the CICC’s declaration to Lévesque the following day.
That day Lévesque spoke in the House of Commons about how across Canada Sisters in Spirit vigils are held every year and they cannot be allowed to go unnoticed. According to Toulouse, Lévesque said that we have to do something as the whole nation is looking to us to bring change and to bring these women home.
With the success of this year’s event, Toulouse said that she had already been approached by many participants to see what could be added to the event next year.
“As a woman I have concern. Every time I see a notice about another sister who has disappeared there is that possibility that she could be someone I know or she is a person I know, but I just have not met her yet. In that sense we have to link arms in solidarity. Some people choose to disappear but there are a lot of others who do not,” said Toulouse.
For more info on Sisters in Spirit and missing Aboriginal women in Canada, visit www.nwac-hq.org