SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION – On Monday, a small group gathered at the Sheguiandah First Nation Health Centre to commemorate Sisters in Spirit Day, walking in memory of those Indigenous women and girls who died at the hand of violence or are missing.
Led by the Sheguiandah First Nation Health Centre Team, Nicole Waindubence, elders centre co-ordinator and Crystal Madahbee, community engagement co-ordinator, the walk ended at the memorial to missing and murdered women and girls located near intersection of Highway 6 and Indian Mountain Road.
Ms. Madahbee told The Expositor it was important for the community to mark Sisters in Spirit Day to memorialize and pay tribute to all those who are missing their loved ones who have died an untimely death or are missing.
“The subject hits close to home as the community is still grieving the loss of one of their own,” Ms. Madahbee noted, referencing the late Kristen Shawanda, a Sheguiandah First Nation member. Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding Ms. Shawanda’s death.
The Chiefs of Ontario and Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald also marked Sisters in Spirit Day by standing in support alongside the families of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and survivors and calling for immediate action from the provincial and federal governments to ensure the safety and security of Indigenous women and girls across Canada.
“This year, on Sisters in Spirit Day, the Chiefs of Ontario and I will be honouring the families, survivors and the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. We ask that Canadians from coast to coast to coast, stand in solidarity and remembrance as we call for justice and immediate action to ensure the safety and security of our sisters, aunties, and mothers,” said Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald.
In June 2019, the National Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) released its final report titled, ‘Reclaiming Power and Place.’ The report included 231 calls for justice to address the systemic racism and colonial violence Indigenous women and girls have faced for decades and indicate the clear steps Canadians need to take to be a part of that change. Since its release, the federal government has committed to developing a national action plan to prevent and address violence against Indigenous women and girls by June 2020. (Due to COVID-19, this commitment has not been met.)
“By allowing Barbara Kentner’s murderer to have his charges downgraded from second-degree murder to manslaughter, the Superior Court Justice proves that this type of violence will be permitted without the full repercussions of the law,” Chief Archibald said in a press release. “I strongly call on both levels of government to develop a strong joint action plan with First Nations to ensure that our Indigenous women are safe, protected and respected.”
“The Canadian government is continuing to show that the lives of Indigenous women across the country are not a priority,” the regional chief continued. “This week, we heard the nation’s outcry for justice following the death of Joyce Echaquan after nurses verbally assaulted her because she was a First Nation woman. The abhorrent words and contempt shown to a dying mom were tragic and hurtful for everyone who watched the video online. The government must act now to protect the lives of our Indigenous women and girls.”
“We ask each and every one of you, whether you are a parent, are in any of the four levels of government, are a police officer, a judge, a teacher, how are you contributing to eliminate violence and death of Indigenous women and girls?” Chief Archibald continued. “We urge you to assess and determine how we can all work together to address the patriarchal systems, policies, laws, and attitudes that contribute to systemic racism, discrimination and injustices. We have many people at grassroots levels who have raised their voices, only to fall on deaf ears. This must change; we must commit to the efforts and proceed with action.”
“We use the term ‘targeted’ instead of ‘vulnerable’—Barbara Kentner, Tina Fontaine, Joyce Echaquan were not vulnerable; they were targeted because the existing systems allow them to be; the systems say they are worthy of justice,” the chief added. “On Sisters in Spirit Day, we ask you to evaluate and determine what changes you will make.”