WATCH: How Sisters in Spirit honoured the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women

Torontonians and members of the Ryerson community gathered at a vigil at Allan Gardens Tuesday night to honour the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Heather Lewis Blaker was there to remember her daughter and husband. Her daughter died in the summer of 2014. Blaker’s husband was also murdered 25 years ago.

“Just stop the killing,” said Blaker. “I mean the system sucks. Life is too precious.”

The vigil, Sisters in Spirit, is an annual nationwide event. The vigil was organized by the Native Women’s Resource Centre (NWRCT).  

Sisters in Spirit 2016

Attendees gathered to honour missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. (Behdad Mahichi)

Blaker spoke publicly about the deaths in her family, her own experiences with alcohol and attempting to take her own life.

“My daughter’s spirit has been beside me and behind me and I am clean and sober for seven months now. I pray every day. I feel her with me, keeping me stronger,” she said.

The vigil is part of a global movement for social change where indigenous and non-indigenous people stand in solidarity and voice their stories and concerns about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s (NWAC) database, since 2010 the number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada has been disproportionately high. NWAC’s research indicates that between 2000 and 2008, Aboriginal women and girls represented approximately 10 per cent of all female homicides in Canada even though they only make up three per cent of the female population.

Aboriginal women are three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Aboriginal women, according to the NWAC.

Sisters in Spirit

A Ryerson student designs a poster for the vigil. (Mallory Warren)

The event included a series of activities like cedar tree planting, jingle dress dance and a community feast.

Ryerson students also participated in the vigil to show their support for families of the victims. Students designed banners and walked to the vigil to show solidarity and engage with the community.  

Sarena Johnson, advocacy co-ordinator at NWRCT said, “It’s extremely important for Ryerson to show solidarity being on indigenous land – the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation – and being such a local school…this is a really good opportunity for them to do that, while also learning a little about our culture.”

Phyllis McKenna, a Ryerson student and vice-president equity at the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson, said that she doesn’t know of any indigenous person who hasn’t been affected by missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Phyllis McKenna painting a banner for the vigil. (Mallory Warren)

Phyllis McKenna paints a banner for the vigil. (Mallory Warren)

McKenna, who is Anishinaabe, said she hopes Ryerson becomes more aware and acknowledges inequalities at the university and in the city.

“A part of the Truth and Reconciliation is that we are responsible to ensure that Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples is repaired,” McKenna concluded.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed in 2008 to teach Canadians about the ways in which residential schools affected Aboriginal individuals and communities, as well as the steps necessary to heal and to move forward.

Ryerson will be hosting talking circles in response to the TRC during the month of October.

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