In an effort to raise awareness for missing and murdered Aboriginal women, Agassiz’s annual candlelight vigil is returning next month.
The event works in part with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) as part of their nationwide Sisters in Spirit Vigils initiative.
Event organizer Debbie Hansen explained that the event, which is now in its fourth year, was created to raise awareness of missing the missing and murdered women in B.C., as well as across Canada.
“Because of the alarming numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the Native Women’s Association of Canada was trying to raise the profile for, not only politicians, but for the local citizens of Canada to realize that more women were going missing or experiencing violence than the rest of the population of Canada,” Hansen said. “The vigil started as a way to bring these women to the forefront so that people would see them as human beings, not a statistic.”
However, the vigil wasn’t the first in the Agassiz / Harrison Hot Springs area as an already existing vigil was taking place on Seabird Island at the time.
“The first year, the reason we held a public vigil was that Seabird Island was doing a private vigil and it was only open to their band members,” Hansen explained. “We decided to have one where the larger community could become aware of this issue and be involved.”
It didn’t take long for the community involvement to rise and over its four-year course the event has evolved. With higher turnout every year, the event time quickly changed from afternoons to evenings to make it more accessible.
“The first year that we did it we held it in the afternoon and we released balloons in honour of women,” Hansen said. “Since then we’ve been doing it in the evening as a candlelight vigil. We just found that it was little more dramatic and profound, but also that more people could attend.”
Along with the rest of the organizing team, Hansen follows a script provided each year by the NWAC. The vigils usually include readings and biographies of missing or murdered Aboriginal women from B.C., and a candle lit for each woman,
“One of the key components of the vigil every year is discussing in depth some of the women who are either still missing or were murdered,” Hansen said. “You discover that they were somebody’s daughter, or a mother to two children, or a grandmother. It makes them be a human being, the reality of their life being a huge loss to those people who loved them.”
While the vigil exists to educate the community on the issue, it also acts as support for those involved.
“It is not only for public education, but it’s also support for grieving families and recognition of the deplorable situation in terms of violence against women, especially aboriginal women,” Hansen explained.
But this year, the vigil may have a different approach following the Liberal party’s federal investigation of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
“We’d been urging politicians to do an inquiry into this and the Conservative government just stonewalled us,” Hansen explained. “Now we have the inquiry taking place – what we’ve asked for all these years is finally happening.”
While Hansen and everyone else involved in organizing the vigil are more than happy with the inquiry, they still plan to keep the stories of the women in the forefront.
“It’s had a political component at the end of each vigil where we urge people to support the request for a national enquiry and now that request has been granted and it is beginning,” she said. “We want to celebrate that, but we also don’t want to lose track of the faces of the women that have gone.”
Even with the inquiry now taking place, Hansen noted that the vigil is still relevant and just as necessary for the community.
“Every women should have the right and the respect to be safe,” she said. “We do it because in our hearts we feel it’s right, important, and just.”
The vigil will be on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 8:00 p.m. at the Agassiz United Church. For more information visit nwac.ca.