Public concern about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has started to garner attention from the media and government. On Oct. 4, nation-wide vigils were held to honour those taken from loved ones too early.
According to a 2014 Royal Canadian Mounted Police report, 164 missing Indigenous women and girls have been documented and 1,017 have been victims of homicide. Sisters in Spirit hopes to bring light to these issues and to assist in finding justice for the victims and peace for the victims’ families.
A day prior to the vigil, the Indigenous Graduate Students’ Council held a poster-making session in the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre. Iloradanon Efimoff, a second-year master’s student in applied social psychology and co-chair of the IGSC, discusses the importance of hosting the poster-making event, which had approximately 30 participants, an amount that the IGSC planned for.
“It was a nice time for students to come together, to create a form of artwork for an important cause, meet other students and continue to build solidarity and community,” Efimoff said, in an email to the Sheaf.
The Sisters in Spirit vigil was held in front of the Saskatoon Police Service building this year, where fewer people attended than previous years. Efimoff wonders if fewer people attended because the event took place at the SPS station, but she recognizes the importance of this location, as it fosters a relationship for reconciliation efforts.
“It’s great to see police support at [an] event like this, especially when there is positive interaction with people in the community. There have undoubtedly been, and still are, tensions between Indigenous folks and police all over the nation,” Efimoff said.
The vigil was held at the monument honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women, created by Cree artist Lionel Peyachew, where there were prayers and songs. Afterwards, there was a march led by the Intertribal Drum Group and a meal to end the evening.
The master of ceremonies, Linda Young, who also sits on the police Chief’s Advisory Committee, explained that she has been personally affected by this issue, as her niece was murdered and her case still remains unsolved after 12 years. Young shared that her niece’s death and the deaths of many other Indigenous women and girls are important to acknowledge.
“My niece’s death was a message to all of us to connect to our spiritual selves. And that is what I ask tonight, for all of you that are walking, is to keep in mind the families that have lost their loved ones,” Young said.
Many people at the vigil responded with strong emotions and sadness to the stories that were shared during the vigil. Efimoff discusses the importance of having events like SIS to spread awareness about the inequality and racism that Indigenous women face within the context of the justice system.
“The fact that these things can happen more than once is outrageous. The fact that they can happen thousands of times is pure negligence and disregard,” Efimoff said. “[It] is absolutely shameful. We must work together as an entire community to stop these things from happening.”
Photo: J.C. Balicanta Narag / Photo Editor