Candlelight vigil remembers murdered and missing indigenous women and girls

Families, friends and supporters gathered at the Aundeck Omni Kaning campgrounds for the first Sisters in Spirit candlelight vigil to honour the memory of the missing and murdered women and girls. The vigil was one of 95 being held across the country. photos by Tammy Albers

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—A touching tribute to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls took place in Aundeck Omni Kaning last week, as the community hosted the first Sisters in Spirit vigil.

Sheguiandah Chief Andrew Aguonie lit the sacred fire prior to a welcome and introduction by Jo-Anne Thibideau-Audette and a welcoming speech by Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere. Elder Joyce Madahbee provided an opening prayer, while Ms. Thibideau-Audette conducted a smudge.

A feast preceded the vigil and a candlelit walk and during the feast, Waibejawong Anishnabequek Women’s Group members read off names of the women who are missing and/or murdered in Ontario. Among the attendees were families of local women and girls who are part of the grisly tally of the missing and murdered, including Michelle Atkinson (Cheyenne Fox) and Anna General (Sonya Cywink).

Nicole Howard and Anne Marie Sanford conducted a drum song in honour of the missing and murdered women as the candlelit procession marched to the Anishnabequek Women’s Group sacred fire to offer the spirit plates to the sacred fire.

At the end of the evening, floating lanterns were launched into the dark night sky.

“This is a very special event and we are so pleased to have you all join us here today to honour our missing and murdered sisters,” said Ms. Thibideau-Audette, president of the Waibejawaong Anishnabequek Women’s group. “Throughout Canada today there are vigils being held in First Nation, Metis and Inuit Communities as well as rural and urban towns and cities. 2015 was an especially significant year as there were over 95 Sisters in Spirit vigils held across the country. I am especially honoured that AOK will be included for 2016.

“There is great strength in unity,” continued Ms. Thibideau-Audette. “Together we are uniting for a common cause and drawing attention to this Canadian human rights tragedy. Together we must demand action. I was honoured to be at the launch of the MMIW inquiry in Ottawa on August 3 at the Museum of History in Gatineau. But it is not enough to just let the five commissioners to ‘do their jobs.’ We must continue to demand that something be done to stop the violence against our indigenous sisters.”

Ms. Thibideau-Audette went on to thank the families for sharing their stories. “I also want to thank Joyce Madahbee for our prayer and Chief Patsy Corbiere for welcoming us,” she said. “Your voices and support is important, and necessary to make change. As I look out to this crowd gathered here today, I also want to acknowledge you, the many people and organizations who have taken the time today to come out to raise awareness and honour the many missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.”

The Sisters in Spirit vigils taking place across the country mark a sea change in Canadian attitudes in the MMIW, she noted. “Your support is important and together we are part of a movement for social change. I also want to thank the media for joining us today. This is important work and must be acknowledged. Thank you.”