In Canada, Indigenous women and girls face a higher risk of violence and homicide than non-Indigenous women and girls.
Recognizing this, Napi Friendship Association in Pincher Creek hosted its Sisters in Spirit walk on Oct. 4 to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit people.
Staff and participants started their walk at Napi and travelled about one kilometre to the town’s multipurpose facility.
Once at their destination, they heard from several guest speakers before holding a small memorial ceremony.
Faye and Albert Morning Bull of Piikani First Nation spoke about trauma and loss, and the stigmas that follow Indigenous women and create a barrier to receiving help.
Albert had an aunt he never met and knows only from the stories his grandmother told him. Her name was Lillian, he said, and she was living in Edmonton with a non-native man. She was locked in a room and left to starve. Although the family suspected her partner of being responsible, he was never charged.
“You know this thing that’s been happening to our people, it’s been happening for a long time and it’s got to change,” he said. He added that often suspicious deaths are labelled as accidental or as suicide, which he said means cases aren’t investigated properly.
Growing up, Faye’s mother told her stories about a Piikani woman who was raped and murdered by a man who lived near Claresholm. The accused went free because he came from a wealthy family, she said.
“That’s because our lives are not valued,” she added. “We’re not seen as full people.”
The couple remain optimistic that the future will bring change and that more events will inspire people to raise awareness of the issue.
“It’s especially good to see these young people with us today, walking, because they’re the ones that are going to carry it on into the future,” said Albert. “I hope something really positive comes out of this.”
Faye said that paving the way forward means acknowledging the wrongs that have been committed and becoming a strong ally, working to break down barriers in every relationship and personal encounter with Indigenous people.
It also means openly confronting racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, she said.
Kimberly Hurst, youth wellness co-ordinator for Napi, said the goal of the walk was to “remind community members about the lives that have been lost, about the sisters that have been stolen.”
“It’s something that was buried for a while,” she added. “People wouldn’t really say that it was happening or admit that it was even an issue.”
Napi is reminding people that these women need to be remembered.
“We need to support their families and we need to keep their memories alive, and we need to do this as a community,” she said.
In conjunction with the event, Napi designed red T-shirts and offered them for sale. Funds raised through shirt sales went back to Napi to assist with its programming.
*This story has been corrected. In the previous version, Faye Morning Bull’s story was incorrectly recorded. The Piikani woman she mentioned in her story was not her great-grandmother, but rather a woman from the greater Piikani Nation community. Shootin’ the Breeze misinterpreted Faye’s use of the term “grandmother” in her speech to mean a personal relative, when it was really used as an Indigenous term of respect for an older community member.
Gillian Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter & Jenaya Launstein, Community Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze