BY CHARLOTTE DRACOPOULOS
The Sisters in Spirit Vigil was a night of mourning, of remembering, and healing from great loss.
The ceremony was organized by the Women of Halton Action Movement (WHAM) and Sheridan Centre for Indigenous Learning & Support. Led by Cayuga Grandmother Renee Thomas-Hill from the Six Nations of the Grand River territory, the ceremony honoured missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“The ceremony was about restoring peace because there’s so much violence, so much trauma in everybody’s life,” said Thomas-Hill. “So when we come together we bring peace.”
“Every one of us has lost someone and so in a sense what we did today was to help not only our women but also the people that you have lost too.”
The vigil began with a ceremonial walk at 6 p.m. from Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary School to Sheridan College Medicine Garden led by Mohawk Elder David Grey Eagle, carrier of the 1817 Peace and Friendship Medal.
“The ceremony tonight is about reminding people of our initial instructions of how we were to live on this planet and how were to live with each other,” said Grey Eagle. “So I am a carrier of this medal to remind the human race of our peace and friendship.”
As everyone who participated in the walk arrived, they gathered in a circle around the Medicine Garden and were given electric candles to hold. Thomas-Hill, Grey Eagle and other speakers explained the vigil and the women and girls they have lost. The ceremony went from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The gathering also focused on coming together to heal and finding peace, emphasizing the importance of community and overcoming trauma.
“Somewhere along the line of trauma we’ve all forgotten to be good human beings. We carry too much trauma,” said Thomas-Hill, adding that we need to rebuild “that relationship again of peace and friendship.”
For people like Thomas Hill, they came to this vigil because of their personal connection to the issue and the loved ones they have lost.
“My dad’s sister left the reserve as a young woman and she moved to the city. She used to write to my grandmother and then all of a sudden there was nothing. And I’ve done research, I’ve checked everything and she’s disappeared,” said Thomas-Hill. “And so, my grandmother has always wondered where is she.”
The Sisters in Spirit Vigil was a collaboration with the REDress Project, an art installation created by artist Jamie Black in 2010.
Red dresses were placed in public spaces throughout Oakville and were a part of the ceremony. Serving as a visual reminder of the more than 1,000 missing women and girls.
The artist’s statement describes the project as an “aesthetic response to a critical national issue,” focusing on missing or murdered Indigenous women from across Canada. Through visual representation the project aims to bring attention to the “gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women.”
In 2016 the federal government launched an independent national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The inquiry’s mandate is to “examine and report on the systemic causes behind the violence that Indigenous women and girls experience.” As well as examine “the underlying historical, social, economic, institutional and cultural factors that contribute to the violence.”
Grey Eagle has also experienced personal loss from the on going issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“My blood sister’s daughter was five and a half months pregnant when she was murdered on the highways of Canada,” said Grey Eagle. “So I’m involved personally.”
Not only am I involved personally, but I have a message that it’s time for all of us men to stand up for our women.”