They died too young. Others went missing. Mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, grandmothers.
But they’re not forgotten.
For the last four years, their memories have been kept alive at the Sisters in Spirit vigil hosted by the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto.
The vigil takes place every year on October 4 across the country, bringing attention to the over 600 documented cases of aboriginal murdered or missing women and girls in Canada over the last two decades.
Many of the cases remain unsolved.
“Although this number is enormous, we know that the actual number runs into the thousands,” said emcee Denise Booth, a coordinator at the Native Women's Resource Centre of Toronto.
“This is why we meet here in Allan Gardens to honour our murdered and missing sisters and their families and to celebrate their lives.”
Elaborately painted stones were laid out in a semi-circle behind Booth, each one representing a murdered or missing woman.
After Thursday’s ceremony, the stones were collected and placed in the front garden of the Native Women’s Resource Centre as a permanent reminder of this terrible tragedy.
On an unseasonably warm fall evening, hundreds gathered outside the Allan Gardens Conservatory for the Sisters in Spirit vigil.
“We can actually reach out and do things on our own,” said nurse practitioner Vivian Recollet. “We don’t need the government to tell us what to do. This is proof right here.”
But without government support, there will be no inquiry into the murdered and missing aboriginal women.
“Once they start saying ‘We need to correct this, we need to look into this’ then those police forces will actually start doing it,” said Ed Sackaney, a traditional counsellor and in-house elder at Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services.
“Because we just found a 15-year-old girl raped and murdered behind a church.”
It breaks Sackney’s heart that nobody seems to care.
“This is a national tragedy and disaster,” said MP Carolyn Bennett, Liberal Aboriginal Affairs Critic.
“When an aboriginal woman is missing, there needs to be the same kind of search that there is if a white woman is missing.”
On Thursday in the House of Commons, Liberal MP Judy Sgro pressed the government to establish a public inquiry on murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls.
According to Statistics Canada, aboriginal women experience rates of violence more than three times that of non-aboriginal women while gays and lesbians are about three times more likely to be victims of violence than straight people.
City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam was also saddened and angered by the plight of murdered and missing aboriginal women across Canada.
“I don’t think that we can sit idly by,” said Wong-Tam. “Each and every one of us has a responsibility to do more even when it hurts and we’re tired.”
But talk is cheap. And for years we’ve heard plenty of it from politicians at all levels around the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Yet little if any action.
What we haven’t heard much of, though, is how violence affects transgendered, intersexed, genderqueer and two-spirited aboriginal women.
“Hopefully we can always include them in these circles so that we’re not forgetting them,” said Daniella, a two-spirited trans woman and facilitator with the 519 Trans Access Project.
As a two-spirited woman working in the sex industry for 23 years, Monica Forrester has witnessed and experienced all forms of violence against two-spirited and aboriginal women in the sex work community.
“Many friends have died prematurely at the hands of predators who think it’s okay to violently take our lives,” said Forrester, the engagement coordinator at Maggie's: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, an organization run for and by local sex workers.
“Aboriginal and two-spirited women are most targeted in Canada when it comes to all forms of violence and murder.”
As sunset gave way to nightfall, other community members were invited to share their thoughts with the rest of the group.
Seven months ago, police found the body of Carolyn Sinclair near a dumpster in downtown Winnipeg.
“She was eight months pregnant with my nephew,” said Christina, her sister. “Even though she lived a high risk lifestyle, she didn’t deserve this.”
For Alex, there are no words to describe the pain he still feels at the loss of his 31-year-old sister in 1994.
Sonya Nadine, an Ojibway woman from Birch Island, Ontario was last seen August 25. Five days later her body was discovered in a wooded area 50 kilometres south of London.
She had been beaten to death. Her murderer has still not been found.
“She is with me every day,” said Alex. “And one day I know I will look into the eyes of one and looking back at me will be her spirit returned here.”
Michelle Perpaul, the final speaker, pleaded with her sisters to help reunite a missing daughter with her mother.
On Saturday, September 29, Kodianne Anakons disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/events/248158845306751/?ref=nf
“She doesn’t want to come back to the life that she’s living right now,” said Perpaul, a singer with Spirit Wind and mother of four boys.
“But she doesn’t have a choice.”
Her mother and Perpaul don’t want to see Kodianne taken from her family by Native Child and Family Services of Toronto.
“We want her to be at home,” said Perpaul. “But we need all of your help to help us find her.”
Because Perpaul doesn’t want to speak about her at next year’s Sisters in Spirit vigil.
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