About 150 men, women and children gathered Sept. 23 to walk in memory of Aboriginal and Métis friends and loved ones missing or murdered in northwestern Ontario.
The sixth annual Full Moon Memory Walk was a sombre gathering in Thunder Bay with most participants spending it in quiet reflection or sharing their own eclectic reasons for participating and remembering those 55 women.
“I have three sisters and I couldn’t image something like this happening to them,” said Joey Baxter, an Eabametoong band member. “There have been far too many women murdered around here.”
Baxter walked alongside two of his sisters.
“I think it is important for us to be here,” said Syndin Baxter. “The more people who attend and show their support the better. Hopefully we can raise awareness of this issue.”
In the wake of three murders in the city in the past month – all Aboriginal victims – safety was a hot topic among the participants.
“I don’t feel safe walking at night,” said Caitlyn Baxter. “I always try and find someone to walk with me when I have to be out.”
Her sister agreed.
“I won’t walk at night,” Syndin said.
Anne McGuire, who helps organize the walk, doesn’t blame the girls for how they feel.
“The highest group at risk is young Aboriginal women,” McGuire said. “The stats aren’t going down.”
It’s one of the reasons she too doesn’t walk alone after dark.
“Safety is a major concern (in Thunder Bay),” Maguire said. “There are a lot of cold cases and unsolved murders.”
Her sister Jaime McGuire’s case is one of them.
Jamie, 20, died in 1994 during a visit to Winnipeg. She died of blunt force trauma to the back of the head in a case that remains unsolved. She left behind two children.
McGuire said the missing and murdered women issue seems to be gaining strength.
“There seems to be more interest in the walk,” she said, adding it is a national issue.
The case of British Columbian pig farmer Robert Pickton, who preyed on women in the region around his home, made international headlines.
Pickton was sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2007, with no eligibility for parole for 25 years. He was charged in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey at his farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Police allege he confessed to 43 other murders though he will not be charged in those cases.
Thea Ogewa said for far too long, missing and murdered Aboriginal women have been forgotten.
“There could be a little blurb in the newspaper and then nothing for months,” the Leech Lake, Minn. band member said. “The issue is just set aside. It needs more follow-up from the proper authorities. People need to follow up on their own and make this an issue no one can forget about.”
Ogewa said people have the right to ask questions and follow-up on progress from their elected officials and police.
“This can’t be a case where you remember the issue for one night during the walk and then nothing till the next walk,” she said. “These were all people that died. We need to remember them as people, not just one of 55 murder victims. These women are not disposable.”
The walk began at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Simpson Street and ended at the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway.
After the participants completed their walk, candles were lit to honour the deceased women. Each name was read by Elder Isabel Mercier. A drumbeat was also sounded in honour of each woman.
Well, our short summer up here in Northern Ontario is beginning to fade. Summer is so precious to all of us in the north and this year we started very late...