(Editor’s Note: David Zimmer’s name was originally misspelled. We have since corrected it.)
The Credit River Métis Council, the Métis Nation of Ontario and the Peel Aboriginal Network held a Sisters in Spirit vigil last Saturday at Gage Park, Brampton.
The ninth annual Sisters in Spirit was held for Canadians to raise awareness, honour and remember missing and murdered Aboriginal women by holding candlelight vigils across the country.
The vigil commenced with an opening prayer, drumming and a few words from Sharon McBride the vice chair of the Métis Nation of Ontario, who was the master of ceremonies for the event. The Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, David Zimmer, attended and advocated for awareness for First Nations women and their struggles.
The families of the women that were honoured gave permission to use their stories to the Native Women’s Association of Canada. The nine women that were honoured were:
- Daleen Kay Bosse (Muskego) from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
- Cherisse Houle from Winnipeg, Manitoba
- Shelly Joseph from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Ontario
- Kelly Morrisseau from Gatineau, Quebec
- Georgina Faith Papin from Edmonton, Alberta
- Lisa Faye Sheepskin from Regina, Saskatchewan
- Beatrice Sinclair from the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Manitoba
- Gladys Tolley from Maniwaki, Quebec
- Denise Katherine Bourdeau from Waterloo, Ontario.
All of these women have individual stories with solved and unsolved murders, meaning some of the families don’t have answers for what happened to their loved ones.
“We live in Canada and why is it that some women in the country are treated so differently when it comes to this type of thing? I just can’t imagine living in a small community and knowing for 30 years aboriginal women and girls go missing and nothing is done,” McBride said.
The Métis Nation of Ontario started a faceless dolls initiative where they hold workshops to create featureless dolls to represent a woman. In the upcoming year the goal is to have 1,200 dolls, one for every aboriginal woman that has been murdered or gone missing.
“The higher rates of violence against aboriginal women and girls are absolutely unacceptable to me, to Minister (of Children and Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues Tracy) MacCharles, to Premier (Kathleen) Wynne and to our government; and we are firm in our commitment to take strong action on violence against them. It was inspiring to join with those who came together to remember, to mourn and to renew our commitment to action,” Harinder Malhi, MPP, Brampton Springdale, said.
After each person spoke at the vigil, a single, red rose was placed beside each of the women on the table.
“The roses were very important for me (because) all the speakers laid a rose for love. These women’s pictures were placed in frames like you would with your loved ones, as they are ours. They are grandmothers, sisters, aunties, best friends, all have gone from this world,” McBride said.
Also in attendance was the Chief of Peel Police Jennifer Evans; Constable Carley Gervais, a Métis citizen; Amrit Mandat, MPP for Mississauga – Brampton South; John Sanders, regional councilor for the city of Brampton; and Brad Butt, MP Mississauga – Streetsville.
The vigil concluded with all of the members of the community lighting their candles with final prayers and placing them with the victims’ photos.
Shelley Charles, elder and advisor on aboriginal relations at Humber College’s Aboriginal Resource Centre, was not at the vigil but finds these events invaluable.
“These events happen all across Canada and they are really important as they raise our collective conscience about the tragic loss of aboriginal women. Supporters and women’s groups stand alongside First Nations families and it helps to raise awareness of the issues of discrimination and violence against aboriginal women,” Charles said.
The Métis Nation of Ontario has submitted a letter asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to work collaboratively to end violence against Aboriginal women. For more information about the Métis Nation of Ontario and their initiatives click here.