Content warning: Mentions of gendered and racialized violence.
In collaboration with Missing Justice: Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the Iskweu Project hosted the 10th annual vigil on Feb. 14 at The Native Friendship Centre, to honour individuals lost to gendered and racialized violence. The event was designed to create a space for survivors, family members, and loved ones of the women, children, two-spirit, and non-binary victims to gather and mourn.
Four speakers shared stories about the loss of their sisters, grandmothers, and loved ones to violence. Their speeches recognized the lives of those they had lost and demanded that the Canadian authorities pursue concrete action.
Melanie Morrison, who lost her sister, Tiffany, spoke about the lasting impact it had on her family and community.
“The day [that] my sister’s remains were found, we did not get her back,” Morrison said. “She was not returned to us; [only] her bones were. [This] affected everyone in our family, including our extended family. When you’re part of an Indigenous family, it extends generations. The whole family unit changed. That closeness was lost. We were broken.”
Tiffany went missing from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in 2006. Melanie emphasized the need for the Canadian government to institute legislation to prevent similar instances.
“Our reports should be taken seriously from day one,” Morrison said. “Everyone is human first, and should be entitled to the same treatment when a loved one goes missing. With these events, my hope is that people change the way they view these stories. These people shouldn’t be pushed aside, forgotten, or taken advantage of for political gains or campaigns. We need to change the process, thinking, and realities for our women, girls, two-spirited, and non-binary people.”
Between speeches, hand drummers and singers performed songs to honour those lost.
After battling alcoholism and the loss of her sister, Tess Lalonde became involved with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
“I joined a healing circle with the MMIWG,” Lalonde said. “ They heard my story, and they wanted to know if I would testify at the inquiry. My big issue is not my sister’s suicide. [It] is mental health and how easy it is to go down that stream and not be able to swim when it’s rocky.”
She described the need to seek help from available resources when battling mental illness.
“My message is, before you have those thoughts, seek help,” Lalonde said. “The MMIWG brought me on a journey where I got to liberate my sister’s spirit.”
Jessica Quijano shared her experience with losing Donna Paré, an Inuk woman experiencing homelessness who went missing in December 2018. Her disappearance was only reported in March of the following year.
“I had the privilege of meeting Donna a long time ago,” Quijano said. “Since her disappearance, flashbacks have been coming to me about how she was living on the street. It is difficult for me to hear comments about the circumstances regarding people going missing. There is this idea of the ‘perfect victim,’ which tears me apart.”
She urged Canadian authorities to take action against the lasting impacts that colonization had on Indigenous communities in Canada.
“Donna was a fighter who had to deal with the consequences of colonization,” Quijano said. “It is heartbreaking to speak to her family, who does not have a voice in the process. It’s up to us to put pressure on our politicians. They can no longer be unwilling to pursue [investigative] action, because families have put themselves through the pain of testifying.”