SISTERS IN SPIRIT — Several hundred people joined in the seventh annual Sisters In Spirit walk and vigil Oct. 4 to honour and draw attention to missing and murdered people, particularly Aboriginal women. (Ledding photo)
Sisters in Spirit walk and vigil held
By Andréa Ledding
SASKATOON — Several hundred people joined in the seventh annual Sisters In Spirit walk and vigil, followed by keynote address with soup and bannock, on Oct. 4. Hosted by Saskatoon’s Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik (Women Walking Together) to honour and draw attention to missing and murdered people, particularly Aboriginal women, there was a bigger non-Aboriginal turnout than in previous years, and the largest turnout to date.
Oskayak School’s Iskotew Drum Group provided the honour song and lead drumming, after the elder’s opening prayer, and during the march. FSIN Women’s Commission representative Geraldine Arcand brought official greetings and encouragement to those gathered, including families of those missing.
“These are our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our aunties,” noted Arcand.
Tori-Lynn Wanotch and Myrna LaPlante hosted the event on behalf of the 10-person Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik committee, the driving force behind local events, which were also held in La Loche, La Ronge, Onion Lake, Prince Albert, Regina, Lloydminster and Yorkton. Vigils were being held across Canada and in the United States and Central and South America. Internationally, nationally, and locally, the odds of a missing or murdered person being an Aboriginal woman are staggering, given the relatively small percentage of the population they represent.
“It’s terrible that we have to be here,” noted Senator Lillian Dyck during her keynote address after the walk, adding that it was at the same time heartening to see the turnout and support, but the struggle on Parliament Hill was very draining because she was just one voice; many people don’t understand the issues, while others in charge seem to deliberately turn their backs.
“The federal government has said that NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada) cannot even use the SIS logo,” she said, pointing to the Grandmother Moon designed by B.C. Kwakuitl and Coast Salish artist Dick Baker to symbolize the Sisters In Spirit (SIS) initiative, adding to applause, “So I take my (NWAC Grandmother Moon logo) bag into the Senate every day.”
Dyck described federal cutbacks which seem to deliberately target Aboriginal groups, in particular NWAC; they have been forbidden to compile statistics or collect data on murdered and missing women. In fact, Dyck was threatened with arrest during a peaceful protest on Parliament Hill, even after the RCMP was informed she was a senator.
“People need to be pushed on Parliament Hill,” she noted, urging everyone to contact their MP and say that Aboriginal women are valued, loved and respected, and deserving of life. When Dyck gave Senate testimony, she brought a picture of Tamra Keepness, a young twin girl who disappeared in Regina, and was reprimanded and forbidden to display the picture.
Karina Wolfe’s mother, Carole, spoke movingly to the crowd through a sign-language interpreter about her daughter, who has been missing two years now.
“I miss her every day,” she signed, adding not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about her or wonder where she is or hope this is the day she turns up. “She is 22 now.”
Greetings came from the Police Service Deputy Police Chief Bernie Pannell.
“Aboriginal women deserve respect. They deserve dignity. They deserve to feel safe,” noted Pannell.
He also gave an overview of Victim Services, introducing Dorothea Swiftwolfe, who is the Missing Person Liaison Officer working for Victim Services, a signal that Saskatoon City Police are putting a priority on missing women and their families.
FSIN Vice-Chief Simon Bird noted, “As leadership you carry a heavy burden and that walk today, the burden you carry, is nothing compared to the murdered and missing women, the families that are here trying to carry that burden with them.”
Speaking of how he felt as a husband, and a father of a four-year-old daughter, Bird challenged men to be warriors and protectors. “If you ever see anyone disrespecting a woman, I challenge you to step in and be that protector.”