Sisters in Spirit: MMIWG remembered during annual vigil
An annual vigil to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls this year came in the midst of Canada’s long-awaited national inquiry into the problem.
Several people who attended the Sisters in Spirit vigil on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Oct. 4 had recently returned from Smithers, B.C., where commissioners were hearing from family members of MMIWG.
Skundaal Bernie Williams (Gul Kitt Jaad) of the Haida Nation, an artist and frontline worker, joined a group who walked 350 km along the Highway of Tears before the hearings began.
She said at the vigil that going north for the event was a good experience, however she believes that the inquiry’s design is inherently flawed.
She said part of the root of the problem is sexual abuse that is happening in some Indigenous communities and that she believes the inquiry has failed to address.
“I always try to imagine, what would it look like if we all worked together to help this inquiry to succeed,” she said. “Because one thing I do know is that the Trudeau government knows darn well that this is set up to fail.”
Fay Blaney of Homalco Nation, who has been fighting for Indigenous women’s rights and an inquiry for many years, had similar concerns about the way the inquiry is being handled.
She said the government must go into Indigenous communities to encourage survivors of violence to speak up, rather than waiting to be invited.
“I have lobbied for a long time for the inquiry and for an end to male violence,” she said. “If I thought there was a political will on the part of the government to do something about violence towards Indigenous women, maybe I wouldn’t have lobbied so hard.”
Later in the event, family members of missing and murdered women were given a chance to take to the microphone to talk about their loved ones, and a moment of silence was held.
Mabel Nipshank of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre gave a passionate speech about how it feels to keep watching other Indigenous women go missing.
“I think that I am really one of the lucky ones who have made it this far in my golden age, because so many of my sisters have not made it here,” she said. “I remember as a kid, when my cousins did not return, when my aunties did not return, that something horrible had happened to them, and I think those numbers are very unreported.”
Nipshank asked the dozens of people who attended the event to make a commitment to decolonize.
“I would like us to make a commitment to decolonize our minds, our spirits, our bodies, and not act out by what we have been taught,” she said.