Inuvik honored and remembered missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) at its second annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil October 4 at the Family Information Liaison Unit (FILU).
The vigil was started by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and is held in communities across Canada and internationally every October 4 to encourage social change, raise awareness about MMIWG and provide support to families who have lost a loved one.
Inuvik’s vigil operated on a drop-in basis and included a sharing circle, food and refreshments and time for socializing.
NWAC outreach coordinator Rita Arey attended the vigil. She said the vigil is an important step in getting MMIWG into the public eye.
“Across the North, we’re all connected through family, and you have a lot of friends, so anytime that a death occurs that is violent, it touches everyone’s heart,” said Arey. “I think we need to gain the respect back for our women and girls, we need to stop this, and the vigils are the first step in doing that.”
The vigils are also a way for families who have lost loved ones to get support and gain closure.
One way this is being done in Inuvik is through the creation of a community tapestry similar to NWAC’s beaded heart tapestry in Yellowknife.
Community members are invited to sew a heart onto a red tapestry located at the FILU office in honour of their lost loved ones.
“Anything that gets people out and talking about what happened, it breaks the ice and helps them to move forward,” said Arey. “The fact that the artwork is traditional, that gives it a lot of power.”
Inuvik’s FILU coordinator Susan Keats said Lisa Keegan and Shirley Kisoun came up with the idea to recreate the tapestry in Inuvik.
“I think that is such a beautiful tribute to women. We expanded ours a little bit – it doesn’t have to be a beaded heart, it could be a sewn heart or fabric heart,” said Keats. “It’s a way to honour these women and let them know that they’re not forgotten. There are a lot of people who care and are making sure that their memories stay alive and fighting for their rights.”
She said the vigil is an important first step in addressing family violence in Northern communities because it gets people talking.
“We need to address family violence … it is a community thing, these are social, human issues … Family violence is a touchy topic because everyone is affected by it in the North. It may not be your mom or your sister, but there is somewhere in everyone’s family or extended family that has been affected,” said Keats. “I don’t have the whole answer for how to break the cycle, but I know the first step is breaking the silence.”