Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls honoured in live virtual ceremony

From left, Lisa Osawamick performs the Strong Women’s Song while Dorothy Wassegijig-Kennedy provides extra rhythm with a rattle. The full ceremony can be viewed on this newspaper’s website.

WIIKWEMKOONG – Naandwechige-Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre recently hosted a virtual ceremony to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in partnership with Nookomisnaang Shelter and community broadcaster FirstTeltv5, the latter of which streamed the event live online and has aired the 21-minute clip on the community television channel to allow all viewers to take part and reflect on the significance of the day.

“It was really fulfilling and I’m glad I was able to fulfil my responsibility in ensuring that we put on the day of awareness for the (MMIWG) issues like was originally planned before it got cancelled,” said Dorothy Wassegijig-Kennedy, community wellness worker at Nookomisnaang Shelter.

The National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has been an annual commemoration on May 5 in recent years. Wiikwemkoong’s gatherings are usually public affairs but this ceremony turned virtual given the current global circumstances.

“Almost every day, a woman or young girl goes missing and we still suffer from the many injustices that are in this world such as racism and poverty and many of the multi-generational traumas such as grief and abandonment and residential school, to name a few. We are very vulnerable in many ways as we participate in the greater world,” said Ms. Wassegijig-Kennedy.

The in-person ceremony was cancelled in March but Ms. Wassegijig-Kennedy was encouraged to still put on an event of some sort. 

She recruited drummer and singer Lisa Osawamick who joined Ms. Wassegijig-Kennedy in the Nookomisnaang smudging room to help conduct the ceremony.

“Something that I try and help out with is to have the singing and drumming sessions to make our voices stronger and also to use (them) for not only our people, but for the Earth,” said Ms. Wassegijig-Kennedy. 

The live event opened with a prayer and smudge from Ms. Wassegijig-Kennedy before Ms. Osawamick began drumming and singing. They sat at a safe social distance and Ms. Osawamick described each song and its meaning before she began.

“The (five) songs I’m going to sing tonight are really honouring women and the many things that we carry, the gifts that we carry, and honouring all missing and murdered Indigenous women and their families,” said Ms. Osawamick.

Although she isn’t shy to drum at live events, the presence of a broadcast camera caused a few jitters but not enough to detract from the performance.

“A lot of events are cancelled these days, so to even have Firsteltv5 stream it live for the community to watch on their TVs, it shows that we are doing the best we can with what we’ve got to continue the good work that our community does,” said Ms. Osawamick.

The video was well-received, being shared numerous times on Facebook including by the Anishinabek Nation.

“(Anishinabek Nation) does a lot of work for MMIWG and their families. That really touched my heart because the more people that share it, the more people that awareness spreads to,” said Ms. Osawamick. “I really have to commend Dorothy Kennedy for the work she does. She’s an essential worker and still reached out to host an event like this.”

Even the camera operator was subtly swaying to the music, said Ms. Osawamick. 

Ms. Wassegijig-Kennedy said the video has been re-watched numerous times by people who are using it as a way to learn how to sing the songs and use them in their own ceremonies.

“They said they will review the live stream again to get to know the songs a little more; that was the bigger comment and I’m happy for that. It’s one of the reasons why we did this was so that people could sing along and drum along because they don’t have as many opportunities to do it,” said Ms. Wassegijig-Kennedy.

The live-streamed ceremony to honour MMIWG is embedded in the online version of this story at The Expositor’s website, Manitoulin.ca.