Murdered Aboriginal women remembered at vigil

Murdered Aboriginal women remembered at vigil
(Above) People light candles honouring missing murdered women, known and unknown, during the Sisters in Spirit vigil held last Tuesday night in downtown Fort Smith. Photo by Paul Bannister.

Murdered and missing Aboriginal women were honoured by a small group of mostly women in a sombre candlelit vigil in Fort Smith last Tuesday evening.

Those present lit paper lanterns that were arranged in a wide circle around a giant painting of the “grandmother moon” – the official logo for the nation-wide Sisters in Spirit campaign that holds vigils on October 4 each year across the country.

The event aims to raise public awareness around the issue, which sees lost native women often fall into anonymity.

“There’s so much violence experienced by Aboriginal women and girls in Canada,” said Ruth Rolfe, director of Fort Smith’s women shelter, Sutherland House, which organized the gathering.

“This is a once-a-year thing to bring them to the forefront and honour the women and girls who are missing and murdered.”

The Sisters in Spirit organization holds 582 missing Aboriginal women within its database, as of March 31, 2010. Twelve of those women are from the Northwest Territories.

Fort Smith children painted their anti-violence messages at Aboriginal story-telling night at the Northern Life Museum.

Photo: Paul Bannister

Fort Smith children painted their anti-violence messages at Aboriginal story-telling night at the Northern Life Museum.

Rolfe noted that one of the biggest underlying issues to the missing women problem in Canada is, according to the Native Women’s Association, lack of willingness on the part of police to investigate disappearances and crimes against native women.

“We met with the RCMP this year and thought it would be really good to enhance the Sisters in Spirit vigil with RCMP presence,” she said. “It’s important for the community to recognize the RCMP is party to missing women.”

This year Constable Andrea Barrett was present in her full Mountie regalia to offer support and light a candle.

“This year by having an inter-agency approach, the RCMP are here and willing to let people know that it’s important to them,” said Rolfe.

The event was held in conjunction with other activities marking Family Violence Awareness Week, from September 30 to October 7. This year’s theme was “Calling All Men to Stand With Us! Stop Family Violence.”

The week started off with a luncheon with the Fort Smith Seniors’ Society to talk about elder abuse. On Monday evening, RCMP and Corrections staff offered a women’s and teen’s self defense class at the Recreation and Community Centre. Thursday featured a community drumming circle at the Wellness Centre and on Friday night, Aboriginal storytellers shared their knowledge at the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre.

Students from JBT Elementary School participated in a poster contest following presentations by Healthy Families and staff from Health and Social Services on the issue of bullying. Their posters are now on display at the museum.

“What we’re trying to do is develop community partnerships to stop violence against women and children,” said Rolfe, noting all the collaborations made during the week. “We believe all sectors of society share the responsibility of ending violence.”

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