Sisters in Spirit vigil honours missing and murdered women
The names of 66 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls were read aloud on Oct. 4 during the Ontario Native Women’s Association Sisters in Spirit vigil in Thunder Bay. Over 100 supporters attended the event which included prayers, songs, a sacred fire and a feast.
The names of 66 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls were read aloud to honour their lives during an Oct. 4 Sisters in Spirit vigil in Thunder Bay.
“The women and families affected by these tragedies deserve recognition, respect and justice,” said Betty Kennedy, executive director of Ontario Native Women’s Association. “Over 600 grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and friends have already been lost to senseless violence. How many more do we need to lose until Canada stands together as a country and demands action? Ending violence against Aboriginal women and girls is a top priority for ONWA and we will not stop until our fallen sisters and their families receive the justice they deserve.”
About 100 women and men gathered at the ONWA building in Thunder Bay for the lunch-hour vigil, which was one of about 215 registered events held by individuals and organizations across the country.
Shoal Lake’s Leona Everson spoke about the death of her niece during the vigil, noting she was found frozen on a lake near the community after being missing for about a month.
“She started walking out on these islands, thinking that was where she lived,” Everson said. “But it wasn’t. These towers looked similar to where we lived. I think that was what confused her, because she was intoxicated.”
Everson said her niece was not dressed for the winter conditions, noting she was only wearing a jean jacket, sweater, jeans and runners.
“She must have walked from one island to another island,” Everson said. “We found her tracks where she tried making a fire, to try and warm up.”
Everson believes her niece was sexually assaulted, which led her to run off onto the lake.
“She didn’t have any kids,” Everson said. “She was only 18.”
ONWA estimated there are more than 600 known cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada as well as others that have gone unreported.
“The First Nations in Ontario support the need for a national inquiry and a national plan of action to address this deplorable situation,” said Acting Regional Chief Patrick Madahbee, also Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation. “We believe that action must be taken now to bring justice to those that have been murdered and those that are missing and at risk of harm.”
While there is widespread support from organizations across Canada for the establishment of a national public inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women issue, including from the provincial premiers at their July 2013 Council of the Federation meeting, the federal government recently rejected recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a national public inquiry and a national plan of action on the situation.
“The federal government continues to downplay a situation that is a national disgrace,” Madahbee said. “We will continue to work with all parties to push for answers and for justice for all those that have been murdered and that are missing.”
ONWA’s research found that the average homicide rate for Aboriginal people between 1997 and 2000 was 8.8 per 100,000 people while the rate for non-Aboriginal people was 1.3 per 100,000.
The research also indicated that Aboriginal women and girls are three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to report being a victim of violent crime.
“October 4 is a day for the entire country to honour the memory of the far too many
Indigenous women and girls that have lost their lives or remain missing, knowing that for
many families they live with the memories of their loved ones every day of the year,” said
National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “We must honour their memory and their families by joining the call for action aimed at achieving justice, improving community safety and preventing violence. We continue our call for a National Public Commission of Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women as well as urgent and concrete action to end violence against indigenous women and girls.”
While 84 per cent of all homicide cases across the country are solved, only 53 per cent of the cases in Native Women’s Association of Canada Sisters in Spirit database have been solved.
NWAC has launched a petition calling for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Information is available at www.onwa.ca/NWACpetition.
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