WIKWEMIKONG—People gathered in solemn ceremony at an early morning ceremony held at the Wikwemikong Health Centre’s medicine lodge to partake in a pipe ceremony led by elder Urban Mejaki and to hear the inspiring words of survivor and counsellor Shauna Pitawanakwat, but most of all to remember the 14 women who lost their lives in the 1989 Montreal Massacre on the 25th anniversary of that tragedy.
“Today, 25 years after the massacre in Montreal, we come here to honour the memories of the women murdered across Canada,” said Mr. Mejaki following a prayer in Anishinaabemowin. “Here in Wikwemikong we always do our best to help out. We offer support for the ones who were massacred in Montreal. When we look back 25 years, it seems like just yesterday. Our hearts go out to the families of the people who have lost their loved ones.”
The elder related a dream his wife had where the fires across the land went up, from east to west, and how a young man at the Friendship Centre had the very same dream, a vision of hope that pressure from the people would end government indifference to the ongoing plight of the missing and murdered women. “Here today, in the circle, we think about the women being murdered.”
“If we do two or three of these things (the Seven Grandfather teachings) that is our hope, if we do seven, it would be like floating on air,” he said.
“I am very honoured to be here in this building for this vigil,” said Marnie Hall Brown, executive director of Manitoulin Family Resources. She spoke of the importance of reaching out and supporting each other. “We will spend as long as it takes to reach the day when we can look back at what has happened in the past and know that it will not happen again.”
Wikwemikong Chief Duke Peltier thanked those in the medicine lodge for being there early on a Saturday morning to show their support and to do their part to meet the challenge of ending violence and abuse “not only in our own community, but across the land. It is important to go back to the basics,” he continued, “our Creator put women on the earth to walk beside men. We are all equal, none are better or greater than the other, that is what I try to remember as I sit by this fire. Awareness of the issues facing our community is a good thing.”
Elder Dorothy Wakegijig Kennedy, a community wellness worker, spoke of her work with people experiencing family violence. “I thank the elders for this building,” she said. “I want to thank each and every one of you for being here today for the remembrance of the women killed in Quebec.”
Ms. Kennedy welcomed and introduced the morning’s keynote speaker, Shauna Pitawanakwat, who came to share her own experiences of violence and abuse.
“Miigwetch for this beautiful lodge,” she said. “I want to thank the spirit helpers and our Ogimaa and these gentlemen for taking a Saturday, first thing in the morning.”
She spoke of the pain that parents feel for the loss of a child, no matter what their age and the suffering they must still be experiencing even after the passage of a quarter century. Ms. Pitawanakwat noted that there have been many changes in the past 25 years. “Some good, some very slow,” she said. “We look at where we are today in regards to violence against women.”
Ms. Pitawanakwat shared the story of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child of four in Michigan, where her family had travelled, as many did in those days to find economic opportunities. “A child is supposed to be safe,” she said. She shared the story of her own journey through life, her experience of racism, her marriage to a non-Native. “I didn’t like who I was, I thought it would be better for me, I didn’t like to be Native” and then found herself in a cycle of abuse that ensnares many women.
Ms. Pitawanakwat said that she hoped that one day there would be a women’s shelter in her own community to help women safely escape from that cycle.
Liberal Aboriginal Affairs critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett was present in the circle with AMK Liberal candidate Heather Wilson. Ms. Bennett was in Wikwemikong to meet with Chief Peltier about the concerns, goals and needs of his community and what the federal government can do to assist the community in meeting their goals.
“I don’t pretend to know all the answers,” said Ms. Wilson, “but I am here to listen and learn. This morning I am here to honour the memory of not only those who were murdered 25 years ago, simply for being women, but also those missing and murdered women who are victims of violence and abuse today.”
Following the vigil, those in the medicine lodge joined a crowd gathering outside for a march around the community to show their solidarity as a community.