On Oct. 4, a moment of silence will be held in the Agassiz United Church for the more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada.
For the last six years, the Agassiz Social Justice Committee has participated in the Canada-wide Sisters in Spirit project. Organized by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the vigils are meant to help raise awareness about the systemic violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people.
“I passionately feel that it’s not just an Aboriginal problem,” Betty Rajotte, social justice committee member, said. “These thousands of women that have been murdered and missing all across Canada … it’s a Canadian tragedy and it has to be addressed by all of us with our attitudes and our treatment of one another.
“It’s all the same family.”
Each year, the vigils are held at the Agassiz United Church and are open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
In years past, the events have opened with a speech or prayer by a First Nation representative, and are followed by a recognition of those who have gone missing or been murdered.
Often this recognition is done by writing their name on a heart, and placing it on a bulletin board at the front of the room, “just to draw attention to each particular person,” Rajotte said.
The vigil also includes a candle lighting ceremony, as well as a moment of silence for those who have been lost.
Before the Canadian government undertook an independent national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the vigils also included a petition to ask the federal government to look into the issue.
In June of this year, a 1,200 page report, including 231 calls for justice, was finally completed.
Among the findings: that Canada’s treatment of those women amounts to genocide.
The recommendations in the report include calls to action, such as developing a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women, protecting the rights of Indigenous culture, establishing crisis teams in Indigenous communities and provide safe and affordable transit for people living in remote or rural communities.
(This last point is particularly important for British Columbians, as many missing or murdered women were last seen on Highway 16 in central B.C., often known as the Highway of Tears.)
“We’re hoping that the recommendations will be followed, and that change will come,” Rajotte said.
“We work for change.”
At the Oct. 4 event, although looking towards future change is a part, the goal will be to provide an opportunity to reflect on what has happened across the country.
“One year, a person came that we didn’t know. She came up and talked about her loved one that had been lost,” Rajottee remembered.
“It was just so moving. It had us in tears.”
This year’s vigil will take place on Friday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Agassiz United Church (6860 Lougheed Hwy.)
Everyone is welcome to participate.
“The whole community is invited to take part in this important event,” Rajotte said.