For the last three years, the Sisters in Spirit Vigil has been a way for the community to offer its support to families of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
While it’s an important cause, the ceremony and accompanying march are often emotionally taxing, said organizer Linda Epp. That’s why, this year, she decided to have the event culminate in a smudge at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC).
“I want locals of Whistler to come and understand that this is important to support our fellow nations here and the people who have been lost or murdered,” she said. “It’s a hard day, so I wanted to add a smudge. (It will be) a cedar brush cleansing. That will be open to anybody who wants to do it. Just understand how it’s hard, but it’s healing for a lot of families as well and it’s important to talk about.”
This is the third year Epp has taken the helm to organize the Oct. 4 event, which is just one of many taking place across the country. As the advanced education coordinator with the Ts’zil Learning Centre, last year she decided to try and get more students involved from not only Ts’zil, but also the Xit’olacw Community School and Pemberton Secondary School.
To that end, a local tour company offered up a bus and staff to help transport the students down to the Village. As a result, the number of people attending the march ballooned from 150 in the first year to 400 last year.
“I don’t know what to expect this year until I can figure out if I can involve transportation,” Epp added.
The plan this year, however, is to gather at the Welcome Pole in the Village where family and friends of missing and murdered women will share their stories. Lil’wat Nation Chief Dean Nelson has been invited to speak with Martina Pierre carrying the “Women’s Warrior” song forward to the Olympic Plaza Pole.
“This year I’ll have more singing and drumming around the Olympic Plaza Pole and from there, we’ll walk to the SLCC,” Epp said.
Another component she added last year: hanging red dresses around the Village to represent the women being mourned. She also collected a few and displayed them on a pole, which two high school students carried last year during the march.
“I encourage people to wear red on the vigil day,” she said. “A red dress signifies an aboriginal girl who went missing or was murdered. (Metis artist) Jamie Black started hanging dresses on the (University of Toronto) campus. I thought it was very powerful so I started hanging red dresses in Whistler. Then I’d give information about why I was hanging them there — to raise awareness and provoke discussion.”
Indigenous attendees are also invited to wear their regalia and bring hand drums to the event, she added.
Looking ahead to 2018, Epp said she plans to organize a fundraiser to run as the vigil’s more upbeat counterpart with performances, a silent auction and art. “I’d like to have (the money go towards a scholarship for a female and for a strong leader in the community — whether they’re male, female or transgender,” she said. “That’s what I would like to do in the future, but I want to get more help and reach out to my artistic friends.”
The Sisters in Spirit Vigil for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls will take place on Oct. 4 starting at 11 a.m. at the Welcome Totem Pole in Village Common. For more information visit facebook.com/whistlerssistersinspirit/.