Jerry Lennie missed the chance to intervene when a relative was being abused, and it still burns in his mind.
“Most of my life, I fought,” said Lennie. “To me, that was useless fighting, because when I needed to fight… I wasn’t there for her.”
He shared his story at a Sisters in Spirit vigil for missing and murdered women Wednesday, Oct. 4.
He talked about being ashamed for not saying anything when he could tell something was wrong.
Since then, Lennie has made sure to teach his sons never to fight women.
“I never hit a woman in my life, because my father taught me,” he said. “You have to teach people not to hit weaker people. The parents have to teach the children not to beat, not to bully. They start bullying and it’s going to take over.”
About two dozen people attended the vigil, which included short speeches, s’mores and tea, a moment of silence and a lighting of sparklers around the fire to end it.
Lesa Semmler, who is advising Canada’s inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, talked about her close link to the subject.
“My mother was murdered when I was eight,” she said through tears. “She lived a life of violence. She was beaten in front of me.”
She has seen comments in the media that the national inquiry is a waste of money.
“My mother wasn’t a waste of money,” said Semmler. “There’s got to be a stop. As aboriginal women, we need to stop the violence in our homes.”
She’s passionate about making the point to the inquiry that the situation in the North is not necessarily the same as down south.
“That’s what we see here, is family violence,” said Semmler. “It’s not the stranger picking up the hitchhiker. Here it’s family violence. It’s our husbands, our brothers, our uncles… We need to change it now.”
The inquiry needs to bring more supports for people in the North, from RCMP to community workers and shelters, she said.
Family violence is especially hard to tackle in the shelterless communities.
“Half the town is related to you,” said Semmler, asking where women are supposed to go if they’re in danger, especially with the fear of losing their children to social services as well.
“I think that the only way we’re going to get that money, that support in our communities is if the inquiry gives the recommendations, and they have to hear our stories,” she said. “We’re not down south and we don’t have the same problems as (the people) down south. We need to make sure that our voices up here get heard in the inquiry.”