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Marchers 560People gathered to march through the Saugeen First Nation community as part of the seventh annual Take Back the Night march and Sisters in Spirit Vigil, Ocober 6.

Hub Staff

One hundred and twenty helium balloons depicting the four colours of the medicine wheel: red, yellow, black and white; were individually attached to the arms of those in attendance as they took part in the seventh annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil and Take Back the Night march, October 6 at Saugeen First Nation #29. The wheel represents the circle of life and the colours represent, among other things, the four seasons, the four directions, the four sacred medicines, the four elements and the four races of man.

The Sisters in Spirit Vigil honours the lives of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), with Take Back the Night, an international event and non-profit organization serving to create safe communities and respectful relationships through events promoting awareness as well as initiatives to end all forms of sexual, relationship, and domestic violence.

“There's 120 balloons, which kind of fits in with the 1,200 missing and murdered,” said Kevin Hart, Minister at the Wesley United Church, Saugeen First Nation and the evening's Master of Ceremonies. “It's like a balloon for every 10 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.”

Event organizer and House Manager at the Kabaeshiwim Respite Women's Shelter, Cheryl George said there were only 15 to 20 people at the inaugural Take Back the Night march in 2010. “It's grown ever since,” said George, adding that they’ve now started to include MMIWG. “So we do a memorial for both of them. One's for Take Back the Night so that we can walk the nights risk free in the streets and such and the other is the missing and murdered women, so we've done a combination of both and it’s grown,” she said.

Beginning at the Women's Shelter, marchers, which included local community members and many who had arrived from outside of the area, took to the streets to show their support. Sixty union members from the Unifor Family Education Centre in Port Elgin arrived by bus to join in the march. “Our union has been a supporter with First Nations long before the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada),” said Tim Carrie, Director of Education for Unifor, who added that it was nice to see so many people in attendance.

Escorted by the Saugeen Reserve Fire Department, the march, led by children holding a banner that read 'It Takes a Community to End Violence', and the Saugeen Women's Hand Drum Group paraded through the community and down Highway 21 to the Wesley United Church, where an outdoor ceremony followed. Chief Lester Anoquot offered a welcome to the territory. “It's certainly an honour to see the support of all of the people that are here this evening,” he expressed.

Traditional Healing Elder Shirley John offered an opening prayer and gave thanks to the women who had gone onto the spirit world. “What a beautiful message to be in oneness with them, to be walking with them, talking to them, getting their help that we need so that we can move forward,” she said. “We keep praying and hoping that the light will shine at the other end, that closure will come to the families that have missed their loved one.”

John said that everybody needed to continue praying, “that this does not go on and on and on, that this will stop, that there won't be another victim.” Speaking of the girls who led the march, she added, “you continue praying for those little girls that they will be safe in our community, safe in the town of Southampton, Port Elgin, Owen Sound and the cities wherever they may be. We continue to pray for all of them that they will have a good life, that they don't have to suffer.”

John also spoke of how she had been at Cape Croker's Take Back the Night the previous evening where they had also honoured missing men. “That's the first time where I've come to a gathering where they've honoured the men because they never talk about that part,” she said. “It's not in balance if we're not talking about the men,” she said, adding that there were also men who had gone to the spirit world and who had suffered abuse. “We forget about that and it is time now that we start bringing the men into this picture and that they too will find the closure that they need for their families, that they will be found,” said John.

Keynote speaker, Laura Wolfe shared a true story of a woman named Lani Elliott, who had been abused. “She is a survivor, she's been through a lot and we share her story to hopefully give a voice to those women who haven't found theirs yet,” she explained. “So we share that story and the hope is to end the cycle and what's going on across Canada.”

Wolfe also read a story written by her own daughter, 8 year old Jaylynn Wolfe, which she said is being shared across Canada by the Native Women's Association. The story tells of how Jaylynn felt when she heard about the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and her questions and fears.

I am 8 year old Jaylynn Wolfe and this is my story. When my mom told me about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis, I took a big breath. How could this happen? Why? I had a lot of questions.

I asked my mom questions about why these Indigenous women were treated so badly? Why were they murdered? Why was no one looking for them? I asked my mom if this was going to happen to me?

I was scared. I started to cry. I wished I wasn't native. I wished I was a boy. No one should be scared to be an Indigenous girl or woman.

Please do not let his happen to me. Miigwech.

Conrad Ritchie, Coordinator for Building Healthy Communities, Saugeen First Nation made a correlation between the issues at hand and what is happening to the planet. “So when you think about creation, the first mother, the earth and everything that we as people are doing to the earth, it’s symbolic what’s going on now in society.”

Ritchie discussed the importance of a sense of identity and, speaking of men in particular, said that being rooted and grounded in culture is when you know who you are and can begin to understand the values of family.

“You think about the wolf and what he does for his family, for the kids, everything that that wolf does, he makes sure everything is safe and clear for his family, teaching the young pups and raising them on values and culture.”

Ritchie continued. “If you know who you are, you understand your responsibility and your role as a man for your people, for your clan, and for your nation,” said Ritchie.

“Remember that you’re Anishinaabe before anything else, you were born Anishinaabe. We have responsibilities to each other and I heard someone talk about kindness, that was one of the values of our people. Being an Anishinaabe person, to be good to each other, to be kind to each other, to look after each other and to remember that we all have a responsibility.”

The ceremony also saw the unveiling of a plaque next to a monument outside the church that was installed in honour of the MMIWG across Canada. Thirteen women in attendance were each given a rose to place at the base of the monument.

“One of the things that we're very thankful here for is that a couple of years ago, as part of the rebuild of the amphitheater and the training of some men to do dry stone walling, we had a Chief Examiner of the Dry Stone Wall Association of Great Britain come up with this design as he heard the stories of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women,” explained Minister Hart. “We now have a plaque that's been made up to tell that story.” Hart added that it was a temporary plaque until next year when it would be replaced with a permanent metal plaque.

Hart went on to explain the meaning behind the placing of the roses, one to commemorate each of the 100 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, with an extra rose to acknowledge that it's not yet over. “That is what we pray for, for that rose to never be placed in the future,” said Hart.

The evening came to a close with performances from the G.C. Huston School Drummers and Saugeen Women's Hand Drum Group, followed by a naming ceremony which honoured three missing women, Maisy Odjick, Shannon Alexander and Julie Solomon, each with a connection to the local community.

A sacred fire which had been burning throughout the ceremony remained after for anyone wishing to offer a prayer.

March 560One hundred and twenty helium balloons depicting the four colours of the medicine wheel, each balloon representing 10 of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women across Canada, were worn by people as they marched in the seventh annual Take Back the Night and Sisters in Spirit Vigil, October 6.

Jaylynn Chief 560On the left, 8 year old Jaylynn Wolfe came dressed in her Jingle dress and joined other children in leading the march at Saugeen First Nation, October 6. On the right, Chief Lester Anoquot holds up a poster of two missing girls, each with connections to the local community.

MarchersDrummers 560On the left, siblings Bridgit, Ryan and Dahnis Root were among members of the community to take part in the seventh annual Take Back the Night march at Saugeen First Nation, October 6. On the right, two members of Saugeen Women's Hand Drum group, Traditional Healing Elder Shirley John, left, and Lori Kewaquom performed during the march and at the ceremony held outside the Wesley United Church.

MarieMason 560Stood outside the Kabaeshiwim Respite Women's Shelter, Elder Marie Mason held up a sign up to promote ending violence.

DrumGroup 560The Saugeen Women's Hand Drum Group perform a song by the MMIWG monument outside the Wesley United Church, Saugeen First Nation.

Browns 560Howard and Marion Brown had traveled from Kincardine to show their support and take part in the Take Back the Night march, October 6.

Plaque 560A temporary plaque, located next to the MMIWG monument, was unveiled during the evening's proceedings. A permanent metal plaque is due next year.

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