Sisters in Spirit vigil to honour MMWIG

A screenshot of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girl's Interim Report.
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It is always the time to think about the impacts of colonialism on Indigenous communities, but we have the opportunity to come together, as a community, to do so for the annual Sisters in Spirit vigils.

In 2005, in response to mounting evidence that hundreds of Indigenous women had gone missing or been murdered, many women and human rights groups advocated for a comprehensive action to investigation into the violence and its causes. In partnership with the federal government, Sisters in Spirit was initiated as a database of murdered and missing Indigenous women—however, federal funding was cut in 2010.

Despite this significant setback, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has continued to call on communities to recognize and take action against the disproportionate violence against Indigenous women and girls through the Sisters in Spirit vigils. VIU Students’ Union has hosted this event on campus for many years to continue raising awareness about this important issue. This year’s event will take place on October 3 at Shq’apthut: A gathering Place from 1-2pm and is open to the public to attend.

It is a particularly poignant time to be talking about systemic violence and discrimination against Indigenous women given the prominence of the Murdered & Missing Indigenous Women and Girl’s Commission. The MMIWG Commission has received many critiques from social justice advocates, particularly due to the fact that the Commission is limited in the mandate of their work, grappling with aftercare and support for families who contribute their stories, and the federal government’s recent rejection of a proposed 2-year extension for the report and further funding.

The government did grant a 6-month extension instead, meaning the report will be due on April 19, 2019. Chief Commissioner Marion Buller has declared that this decision is a “great disappointment that shows the Liberal administration is putting politics ahead of the safety of our women and girls.” To date, more than 1,000 witnesses have shared their personal stories of loss, pain, and heartache as well as contributing recommendations for meaningful changes. 

If the government does not provide resources now and into the future, this Commission will follow in the footsteps of many before it—communities expressing their need and solutions with very little government response and accountability. The government has already shown that this issue is more dependent on the politics of the day than on the real need of communities, as seen in the previous cuts to Sisters in Spirit.

Lack of meaningful change and ongoing support would mean that the families who participated in the MMIWG Commission stand not only to be disappointed but potentially revictimized in the process. More time is needed to make thoughtful and meaningful systemic changes and improvement.

If we don’t develop the solutions needed to address this ongoing tragedy in our communities, it is the next generation of daughters, granddaughters, and nieces who will continue to pay an unconscionable price. The changes required cannot be simply reforms to the current system, but a revolutionary process that redefines the meaning of Indigenous women within all structures of society. We can all do our part. Please join us on October 3rd for the Sisters in Spirit vigil to honour these missing and murdered women and girls, as well as to help raise awareness.