A vigil held last Tuesday by Sisters in Spirit attempted to give a voice to thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls while calling on the government to act.
The vigils held across Canada on Oct. 4, in partnership with the Native Women’s Association of Canada are intended to honour the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women by bringing together families of victims and community members who want justice. In Ottawa, the vigil took place on the steps of Parliament Hill and was an opportunity for families to share their stories and support each other in the healing process.
Jocelyn Iahtail was one of the many mothers standing on the steps of Parliament Hill Tuesday speaking on behalf of her daughter. Iahtail’s newborn, Nitayheh, which means “my heart” in Cree died Nov. 13, 2001 because of her mother’s assault.
“I always say I had my own 9-11 experience,” she said while holding the Red Ribbon Dress unveiled that day in remembrance of her daughter.
It was a significant day for her because after nearly 15 years she arrived at a place where she unveiled a memorial to her daughter.
Although she and her son were in attendance to present the dress, her other daughter could not come to the vigil because her emotions were too raw to express publicly. Iahtail said she came to the vigil “to give voice to my daughter because she can’t speak for herself.”
Laurie Odjick, of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation hasn’t seen her daughter Maisy since Sept. 6, 2008. She wants justice, but not the kind that the government has continued to promise, but not implemented.
“I for one am tired of standing in front of the house of broken promises” she said to shouts of shame from the crowd.
Another inquiry with recommendations, government report or photo-op is not going to help her she says. Odjick wants to know what happened to her daughter.
With Aboriginal Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Justice Minster Jody Wilson-Raybould and Status of Women Minster Patty Hajdu beside him, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau began addressing the concerns from the crowd and speakers saying “These buildings behind us and everyone who has sat in them failed. Failed to uphold the values and principles which they were supposed to defend.”
He understands the impatience and frustrations many face, but said that change is not something that will happen overnight. With the help of all Canadians, he says his government will work hard to restore the critical relationship we share with indigenous peoples and commit to doing more.
For many, including Assembly of First Nations Chief Ghislain Picard, there is still a lot of work to do, including implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Justice is not yet at our doorstep.”