Standing in solidarity: The Sisters in Spirit Vigil

I attended the annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil at the Agassiz United Church Oct. 4. – this was the second time I’d gone during during my coverage in Agassiz.

The vigil is part of a national movement encouraging people to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) and to support the families they leave behind. Short speeches are made, candles are lit, names are read aloud and a moment of silence honours the thousands lost.

As I do with most events in the community, I head out with my camera, microphone, cellphone and notebook, looking for the best vantage point in the room to get some good pictures and video.

But within minutes of arriving, my “reporter approach” dissolves. I know the media is vital in sharing the stories of these women and bringing more attention to this ongoing national crisis, but as I sit there and listen to stories of loss and heartbreak, I can’t help but to simply become another human being. Another woman.

My eyes filled with tears as I listened to the story of Terry Martin-Dauthanais, a mother of three who was murdered while in a relationship that her family described as violent and abusive. Her partner, who took custody of the children – refusing to allow Terry’s parents to see them after her death– was a suspect, but was never arrested.

But according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), that’s not all that unusual. More than half of the murder cases in NWAC’s database remain unsolved, and only 53 per cent of murder cases involving Indigenous women and girls have led to homicide charges – a huge gap from Canada’s 84 per cent homicide clearance rate.

The injustice of Terry’s story wasn’t just maddening, it was heartbreaking. And I realized that I was experiencing only a fraction of the pain and injustice experienced by the friends and family of women like Terry.

While Terry’s case remains unsolved, it’s unlikely she was killed by a stranger. NWAC’s database shows that 23 per cent of murders are committed by a current of former partner of the woman or girl.

That being said, Indigenous women are almost three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Indigenous. And most cases occur here in Western Canada. More than a quarter (28 per cent) of NWAC’s cases occurred in B.C. and 16 per cent in Alberta.

Without question, I stand in solidarity with Indigenous women, who continue to fight an incredible fight – asking the government and the RCMP for accountability and justice.

I started attending Sisters in Spirit vigils as a reporter, but I will continue to attend them as an ally, as a woman and as a Canadian who is ready for change.

Learn more about MMIWG at NWAC.ca.

Watch a video about the Agassiz United Church’s 2018 Sisters in Spirit Vigil and hear from organizer Debbie Hansen online at agassizharrisonobserver.com.

–Nina Grossman, the Observer

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