By: MAHA ANSARI
In what organizers are calling a successful event, about 400 people gathered in Downtown Ottawa on Oct. 4 to mark the loss of missing and murdered Aboriginal women at the third annual Families of Sisters in Spirit vigil.
Attendees gathered for a feast at Knox Presbyterian Church on Lisgar Street and participated in a rally at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument.
At sunset, the group marched toward the Parliament Buildings for a candlelight vigil.
Families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women attended the event, alongside their friends, dignitaries and organizers from Families of Sisters in Spirit.
Families of Sisters in Spirit is a “grassroots not-for-profit volunteer organization … led by families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls with support from Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies,” according to the group’s website.
Kristen Gilchrist and Bridget Tolley are co-founders of Families of Sisters in Spirit, and organizers of the vigil event.
Tolley smiled as she expressed she was “really happy to be able to bring so many people together for the event.”
The pair explained that they were able to put on the event through the $12,000 they received from the Walking with Our Sisters Collective. The event was also supported by awareness raised from their newly launched exhibit tour of vamps, which are the beaded, top segment of moccasins.
According to Tolley and the project’s official website, the Walking with Our Sisters Collective launched an art exhibition on Oct. 2, in which donated vamps are displayed at museums across Canada and the United States.
“The majority of families came from out of town,” explained Gilchrist, “so we used the money we received from [the] Walking with Our Sisters [Collective] to cover travel costs and bring families to the vigil.”
Attendee Sheena Joseph said Families of Sisters in Spirit funded her flight from the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve in Ontario to Ottawa for the vigil.
“My mother was murdered by her landlord in Hamilton,” Joseph said, her quiet voice trembling. “Coming to this event and letting her story be known is comforting to me.”
Joseph stood aside and watch the around 30 attendees participate in an Aboriginal round dance at the corner of Elgin and Wellington streets.
When the crowd reached Parliament Hill, a silence fell over the group that was only broken by sniffling, and the occasional sob. Family members of missing and murdered Aboriginal women then began to recount stories of their losses from atop the stairs in front of the Parliament Buildings.
Some attendees held signs bearing messages like, “Aboriginal Women are Loved and Valued” and “End Violence Against Women,” while others, like Kathy Meyer, carried posters displaying photos of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
Meyer, whose daughter Angela Meyer has been missing since 2010, said attending the vigil gave her “strength to carry on.”
“I think the [Walking with Our Sisters art exhibit] program is generating awareness about women like Angela,” said Meyer, gesturing toward the photo of a dark-haired woman in her hands.
“That’s something we really need.”
Looking towards future endeavours of Families of Sisters in Spirit, Gilchrist said the organization plans to co-host a fundraising event on Dec. 17, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
“When you’re looking for justice, you’re going to look ’till you get it or die,” said Tolley, “so I think it’s important that we continue working hard for our sisters in spirit.”