PBI-Canada attends Families of Sisters in Spirit Vigil on Algonquin territory (Ottawa)

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On October 4, PBI-Canada attended the Families of Sisters in Spirit Vigil that took place at Vincent Massey Park in Ottawa, unceded Algonquin territory on the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The gathering was to honour and remember all missing/murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited peoples, the missing/murdered residential school children, and the missing/murdered 60s scoop children.

It was also held in memory of Gladys Tolley, Aileen Joseph and Diem Saunders.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Journalist Brandi Morin has written: “There have been approximately 4,000 or more Indigenous murdered or missing women and girls [in Canada] in the last 30 years. That works out to about 133 a year, or three a week. [But this has] been happening since 1492.”

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls determined that “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies” are in part responsible for the thousands of Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing in Canada that the report names as genocide.

Residential schools

More than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their parents and sent to at least 139 state-funded “residential schools” operated by churches starting in 1883 as part of a genocidal campaign of forced assimilation.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented the deaths of 3,201 children at residential schools, its chair Justice Murray Sinclair has stated that 6,000 children may have died at these schools, but Cindy Blackstock and Pam Palmater have estimated that more than 12,000 children died in them.

The Sixties Scoop

The government began phasing out compulsory residential schools in the 1950s and 1960s. The term Sixties Scoop refers to the mass removal of Indigenous children from their families that began at this time. The practice continued throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s. An estimated 20,000 Indigenous children were removed from their families and fostered/adopted with primarily white families.

Gladys, Aileen and Diem

Gladys was struck and killed by a Québec provincial police car on October 5, 2001 in front of her home in the community of Kitigan Zibi. She was 50 years old. Her family is calling on the government to conduct an independent investigation into her death. Her daughter Bridget is a key organizer of the Sisters in Spirit vigils.

Aileen passed away at 79 years of age on April 29. Her 40-year-old daughter Shelley was stabbed to death on July 2, 2004. The killer plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to nine years, which was reduced to five years and eight months for time served. Shelley’s son committed suicide 15 months after his mother was killed.

And 29-year-old Inuk defender Diem died on September 7. After the murder of her sister Loretta in 2014, Diem became an advocate for the rights of Indigenous women and testified at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

There were other poignant and painful stories and memories shared at the vigil along with drumming and a sacred fire.

PBI-Canada is committed to confronting the violence of “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism” that are responsible for the thousands of Indigenous women and girls in this country who have gone missing or been murdered. Colonialism, displacement, dispossession, land theft and genocide are intertwined.


Bridget Tolley holds a photo of her mother as Theland Kicknosway drums. Photo from Facebook.

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