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Sisters in Spirit vigil at VIU

Above: Supporters observe a moment of silence in remembrance of missing and murdered First Nations women and girls.

By contributor Shanon Fenske.

VIU’s Nanaimo campus hosted a candlelight vigil for missing and murdered First Nations women and girls in on October 1. Approximately 50 people attending the midday ceremony.

VIU Students’ Union chairperson Sherry McCarthy said the vigil is part of an October 4 national event promoted by Sisters in Spirit but,“The daytime vigil was held October 1 to encourage greater participation. The VIU campus can become quiet on weekends, and daytime is safer for those in attendance as well.”

A sign on the grass at the event said that, according to RCMP, the number of missing and murdered First Nations women in Canada is over 1500. The sign is in the form of a letter to the Prime Minister asking for an inquiry. Guests were encouraged to sign it before they left.

Brea Hodgkin-Bourgeois wore a sign during the vigil with information about her missing cousin. So did her son, Draydehn, one of her daycare children, Ayden, and her friend, Cindy Ross.

Left to right: Cindy Ross, Brea Hodgkin-Bourgeois, Draydehm Hodgkin0-Bourgeois, and Ayden Filipehuk
Left to right: Cindy Ross, Brea Hodgkin-Bourgeois, Draydehm Hodgkin0-Bourgeois, and Ayden Filipehuk

Hodgkin-Bourgeois said that her cousin Caitlyn Murray disappeared just over two years ago in Quesnel, BC. Hodgkin-Bourgeois attended another candlelight vigil the day before to recognize the anniversary of Murray’s disappearance.

“We all wore purple because that was her favourite colour,” she said, “and the bridge was also lit up with purple lights.”

Each speaker at the vigil said that the ceremonies are designed to help the family and friends heal, as well as to facilitate change.

Before singing a traditional First Nation “loon song,” Charlene Richardson explained that, in cases of missing women, the families never really get a chance to grieve, as they always hold onto a thin thread of hope. Richardson names Angelina Pete specifically, a woman from Vancouver Island who was last seen in North Vancouver seven years ago.

“I believe in transformation,” First Nations speaker Fred Spec said. “Anything can be transformed, but it is up to us to make the effort. It begins in the community. It begins in the household. It begins with friends.”

Others shared their experience before the crowd or offered words of encouragement, and prayer songs were also sung. Then, the white candles were lit around the circle as people paid respect to the women being honoured in a moment of silence. The crowd was stoic, but tears were shed.

“It may seem like a small thing today,” said VIU Elder-in-Residence, Geraldine Manson, during her closing remarks, “but our voices are going to echo, and they are going to be loud.”

According to the Sisters in Spirit website, BC has more missing and murdered First Nation females than anywhere else in Canada. McCarthy says that the Highway of Tears and Robert Pickton cases are both factors in the elevated numbers.

There are several women missing in the central Vancouver Island area as well, such as Nanaimo’s 2002 case of Lisa Marie Young. RCMP are still trying to determine exactly what happened to Young, but foul play is suspected.

“The message we really want to send to the government,” said McCarthy afterwards, “is that we don’t want an inquiry into all of these missing and murdered First Nations women in Canada. We demand one.”