Sunday, Oct. 4 marked a day of remembrance for missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.
An event called Sisters in Spirit was held at the Wilfrid Laurier University faculty of social work in Kitchener to recognize these human rights injustices that continue to occur.
Started by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Sisters in Spirit initiative began as a vigil in 2006 in 11 locations across Canada, and as of 2009 there are 75.
Laura Dowler, the Wilfrid Laurier University Graduate Students’ Association (WLUGSA) advocacy officer, explained that she attended a similar event through Amnesty in 2005 and wanted to bring the event home.
After a brief introduction by Dowler, a second-year masters of social work (MSW) student, students from the Aboriginal Stream of the MSW program took the stage to perform a traditional honour song.
Melany Banks, WLUGSA president, then read a joint statement that highlighted the importance of turning concerns into action, and supporting positive initiatives that help keep Aboriginal women safe.
Over the last 25 years, over 500 Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered, and the NWAC and Amnesty International are calling for unbiased police reporting and increased public awareness.
A moment of silence was held before a documentary entitled Stolen Sisters was played. The documentary was produced by Amnesty International in 2007 and follows the stories of three women who disappeared.
Before wrapping up, an MSW student read a story of family violence written by Kathy Abelson. The reader, whose spirit name is Eagle Woman, was close to tears throughout, which she explained afterwards was because her sister died at the hands of her husband.
To contrast the personal story, Dowler shared a number of stats from the NWAC on the circumstances around missing and murdered women.
One third of the 500 Aboriginal women are classified as missing, and two thirds are confirmed as murdered. 50 per cent of the women are under the age of 25, and 22 per cent are between the ages of 25 and 24 years, and the most troubled areas are west of Manitoba.
To wrap up the past two hours, Dowler explained, “I don’t want to identify who that woman is, but that that woman has a name. That woman has a family; that woman has a heart, and a mind and a spirit, and that woman is important, not just to her family and her community but should be important to all of us.
“And in doing this event, we are giving these women a voice, and giving them an opportunity to be heard.”