They marched in almost silence, signs speaking for them instead. They read, No More Stolen Sisters, We Demand an Inquiry Now, Canada Stop the Epidemic! and You are not forgotten.
At 11:30 Wednesday morning, crowds gathered to march from the Stephen Avenue Mall to Olympic Plaza for the Sisters in Spirit vigil. Oct. 4 has become a day to honour the lives of the too many murdered and missing Indigenous women nationwide.
“They were our aunties, our sisters, grandmothers, cousins, nieces, and they are forever missing, forever gone,” says Josie Nepinak, executive director of the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society, a Calgary emergency shelter for women and children and host of the vigil.
Strong emotion was everywhere: sorrow, anger, hope, despair, pride.
The ceremony opened with a prayer by an elder from the Tsuu T’ina Nation.
“I pray and I ask thee for your help to bless all those missing Aboriginal women in Alberta right across Canada,” she said, choking back tears. “They have been missing for so long.”
After the opening prayer, there was a moment of silence and then a number of “They were our aunties, our sisters, grandmothers, cousins, nieces, and they are forever missing, forever gone.” - Josie Nepinakpeople took turns speaking. Of those, were leaders of the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society, Calgary police Supt. Steve Barlow, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, MLA Sandra Jansen and Stephanie English, the mother of a recently deceased Indigenous woman, Joey English.
English’s speech was honest and raw. “Today, I still have a lot of anger, but I don’t feed off of that anger. I don’t want to get sick. I really pray to our creators and to our grandfathers and grandmothers that no other mother would have to go through what I’ve been through,” she said.
On June 8, 2016, parts of Joey’s body were found scattered across Crescent Heights. According to the CBC, the investigation found that she had passed away due to an overdose and had later been dismembered by the individual she was with. Although the perpetrator pleaded guilty, Stephanie refuses to leave Calgary until the rest of her daughter’s body is found.
“This is what I go through every year wondering, that I will get the phone call saying that they found the rest of my daughter's body. Then I can go home. But until then, I will stay here in Calgary and keep making noise,” said Stephanie.
The speakers agreed this problem would only be solved only through the efforts of the entire community.
“We must do everything we can. We must work with our political leaders, we must work with our Calgary police officers, our mayor... and our MLAs. We need to bring people together to remember. That these people should not be forgotten. That their lives mattered and that we remember them,” said Nepinak.
In 2014, the RCMP reported that between 1980 and 2012, there had been close to 1,200 murdered or missing Indigenous women in Canada. Of those, 1,017 were homicide victims and 164 were missing persons. However, those stats have recently been disputed with some suggesting the number could be closer to 4,000.
As more are people become aware of this national tragedy, the Sisters in Spirit vigil has grown exceptionally. In 2006, there were only 11 vigils and now there are roughly 200 every year. Some are even calling for Oct. 4 to become further recognized.
“I think first and foremost, October 4 would be a holiday... There would be a statue there and there would be parks there were Joey English was found called English park,” said Ward 10 candidate Michelle Robinson while answering a question about reconciliation in Calgary.
- By Amy Simpson