Perky Pundit: Advancing reconciliation while recognizing the women at heart of a national tragedy

Imagine if your sister’s disappearance was given only the most cursory of investigations.

Imagine your mother murdered and her killer never brought to justice. Imagine if the “lifestyle” of the victim was used to minimize the unspeakable violence perpetrated against her?

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This is the experience of many First Nations families, the survivors of the more than 1,400 missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) and girls across the country. It’s a dark phenomenon documented since the late 1940s.

In the effort to fast track the federal inquiry into MMIW it appears some important issues around the inquiry’s process were not adequately considered. The process the commission adopted to gather information has been a source of frustration for many First Nations people.

Critics have cited the lack of outreach, lack of communication from the government, and insufficient time for meaningful consultation with affected communities. Others are angry about the exclusion of the MMIW’s friends or “families of the heart” from testifying at the hearings.

To truly understand the full impact of a justice system that failed these women and girls, some of whom were from  the  Líl’wat and Squamish Nations, the consultation process needs to be as broad-based as possible. Traumatic loss doesn’t just affect blood relatives. Obviously, the process needs to be modified.

In the meantime, I think it’s essential that non-First Nations people committed to reconciliation and fair process speak out about these issues. We can call out people who make racist or misogynist comments about MMIW.

We can educate ourselves about this tragedy. We can write our MP, Pam Goldsmith-Jones, at Pam.Goldsmith-Jones@parl.gc.ca and ask for her sustained support to ensure the MMIW inquiry meets its goals in a way that considers the needs of victims’ families, friends and community.

And on Wednesday, Oct. 4, at 11 a.m. we can join thousands of people across Canada in helping draw attention to the issue and honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women at Whistler’s Sisters in Spirit Vigil.

Organized by local First Nations activist Linda Epp and The Howe Sound Women’s Centre, the vigil is one of more than 60 taking place across Canada.

The vigil will assemble at the Welcome Totem (in front of Starbucks) in Village Common. Speakers, both guests and the families of victims, will share their stories and their hopes for the future. The group will then walk down to Olympic Plaza, accompanied by the singing and drumming of the powerful “Woman Warrior’s Song.”

Reassembling at the Plaza Pole, the group will be led in more singing and dancing before walking to the SLCC to take part in healing sessions. (Lunch is available at the SLCC’s Thunderbird Café.)

“The vigil is about giving support and honouring those we have lost. It is important for Whistler locals to come. There needs to be more awareness,” says Epp, a member of the Sechelt Nation. “In Whistler’s backyard, there are people who have been affected.”

To shed more light on the issue, Epp also organizes the Red Dress art installation throughout Whistler that begins towards the end of September. Each dress represents one Indigenous woman who has gone missing. The dresses can be seen throughout the Lower and Upper Villages, in both cultural spaces such as Squamish Líl’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) and local businesses.

“I challenge every space in Whistler to hang a red dress,” says Epp.

I challenge everyone who cares about reconciliation and ending violence against women to come out and support the Sisters in Spirit Vigil. Take out your phone and put it in your calendar: Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 11 a.m. at the Welcome Pole.

Vigil participants are encouraged to wear red in further recognition of the MMIW from First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities.

See you there.

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