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Sisters in Spirit Vigil overflowing with support

Sisters in Spirit Vigil Edmonton. Photos by Paula E. Kirman

“We must redouble our efforts to not only find justice for the Indigenous women and girls who have been taken from us, but also to correct the systemic flaws within the foundations of our society.” —Assembly of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras

By Paula E. Kirman
Windspeaker.com Contributor

The annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil took place in Edmonton on Oct. 4. Honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, boys, and men, the vigil is now in its 13th year.

This year's event was organized by Freda Ballantyne.

“For me, it's healing for my own experiences,” said Ballantyne, who is a Cree grassroots organizer. “I can't get time with my mother back but I can help give back and provide support in that sense.”

Freda Ballantyne

Co-organizers of the event included CEASE (Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation), the IAAW (Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women), AWPA (Aboriginal Women's Professional Association), and SSBAM (Stolen Sisters & Brothers Awareness Movement).

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) launched the national Sisters In Spirit (SIS) Campaign in March 2004 to raise public awareness of the alarmingly high rates of violence against Indigenous women in Canada. In November of 2005, the campaign became an initiative. NWAC believes that Canada is in an urgent state of affairs with regards to the safety of Indigenous women.

At least 200 family members and supporters packed a small space within the Boyle Street Plaza, with overflow into the hallway and vestibule. Hosted by Indigenous human rights activist Chevi Rabbitt (organizer of the annual Hate to Hope rally), the program included sharing from family members, songs, and dance.

A short walk went through the inner city Boyle Street neighbourhood to Okisikow (Angel) Way and back. Located on 101A Avenue between 97 and 96 Street, Angel Way was named in honour of all women who have experienced violence. After returning to Boyle Street Plaza, attendees were treated to food. An outdoor candlelight vigil concluded the event.

Chubby Cree Drum Group

In recent years, the Oct. 4 vigils have expanded to include missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys, in addition to women and girls.

“In the beginning, I think the movement wanted to spotlight the urgency of violence against women, but in my personal interactions and relations I've come to really embrace our intersectionality, including all genders and those who are non-binary,” said Ballantyne. “Men and boys are disappearing, and we want the families to know this is about them just as much.”

In a statement released on Oct. 4, Assembly of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief M,arlene Poitras said “We must redouble our efforts to not only find justice for the Indigenous women and girls who have been taken from us, but also to correct the systemic flaws within the foundations of our society.”

Said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in a statement “Our greatest hope is that these vigils, along with better supports for women, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Alberta’s Taking Action Against Racism plan and resolute efforts at every level of society, will help achieve meaningful action to ensure the safety and security of Indigenous women and girls here in Alberta and across Canada.”

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