1500 pairs of women's and children's shoes arranged in a huge circle

How the Calgary Sisters in Spirit vigil has grown! The 12th annual vigil drew about 500 participants to a mid-day mid-week march and demonstration downtown.

Office workers at lunch looked out of restaurant windows and up from chilly street benches as marchers streamed by carrying orange life-sized woman-shaped cut-outs, and posters with pictures of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The drummers’ steady Thump! Thump! was accompanied by FWAP! FWAP! because Idle No More distributed thick cardboard posters that fold up into noisemakers, so marchers could FWAP along with the drum beat.

At Olympic Plaza, marchers clustered around the display of women’s and children’s shoes that covered the entire floor and first two circular benches of the built-in amphitheatre at one corner of the plaza’s huge wading pool. 

Teenager Aiyana Leonard La Couvee led the project, with her sister Kaiya, motivated by the murder of their birth mother. They were already working with Sisters in Spirit when they received the sad news. They wanted to build a Medicine Wheel out of women’s and children’s shoes, to honour their mother’s memory, and then distribute the shoes to local women’s shelters across Alberta.

Chantal Chagnon and Cheryle Chagnon Greyeyes of Sisters in Spirit put out a call to local Indigenous communities (Calgary sits on First Nations territory, surrounded by six First Nations reserves) and allies. My own congregation alone contributed 143 pairs of shoes. The teens ended up with 1,500 pairs of shoes — of all sizes, from tiny baby boots to tall gaudy platform heels to boat-shaped sensible seniors’ shoes. As moderator Michele Thrush said, “The youngest missing or murdered Indigenous woman was three-months old. The oldest was 85.”

This is the 12th Sisters in Spirit vigil since Chantal Chagnon (easy to spot, with her trademark neon pink hair) and Cheryle Chagnon Greyeyes organized the first. Since then, the number of victims has grown faster than the number of marchers, until now.

Amnesty International’s 2004 “Stolen Sisters” and “No More Stolen Sisters” campaigns cited 600 missing or murdered Indigenous women. In 2014, an RCMP report updated that number to 1,800 — because the killing has continued. Early rumours about the federal inquiry suggest the current number may be 4,000.

But some things have changed since 2004. This time, in 2016, hundreds of Calgarians marched with Sisters in Spirit. This time, 200 other locations held similar marches across Canada on the same day. This time, the federal government finally has struck an Inquiry into the causes of MMIW. This time, real hope for change was in the air.

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Penney Kome

Penney Kome

Award-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column...