One woman from Beaver Lake Cree Nation band in Alberta is on a mission: to bring peace, reconciliation and accountability to Yellowknife for her people.
On April 3, Indigenous community members and allies will converge at The Dome — a structure built on the frozen lake off the southwest corner of Joliffe Isand — for ‘The Time Is Now’ peaceful rally.
“We are raising awareness for our people in three mains issues: missing and murdered Indigenous women, residential school survivors, and our rights,” Shar Whillans, 49, the organiser, told Yellowknifer.
“This rally will unite our people together and stand up for our rights and healing — all of it.”
According to The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) 2014 report by the RCMP, between 1980 and 2012, approximately 1,017 women and girls who identified as Indigenous were murdered or vanished.
This equates to a homicide rate of Indigenous women roughly 4.5 higher than all other women in Canda.
Several organisations, including Amnesty International, have publicly claimed that number is much higher.
“When you consider Indigenous people to be 16 times more likely to be abused than any other race, that statistic is outrageous… I still get asked — what does MMIW mean?”
All three issues the rally will address are personally tied to Whillans’s experience.
“My brother was murdered 18 years ago in Manning, Alberta,” Whillans said.
“Because of him being Indigenous, it was swept under the rug. He was run over many times. It was brutal. Nothing was handed out — not even a parking ticket,”
Whillans’ grandparents are residential school survivors and their trauma permeated the entire family and lead to issues like addiction.
“When you’ve been brutalized how do you go out and have a family? It’s no wonder people can’t face life without alcohol and drug abuse,” Whillans said.
Whillans will share her story at the rally, along with another lady who lost her son in a violent crime in Yellowknife.
“I don’t expect there will be a dry eye in the house. It will be so moving and needs to be seen,”
The rally is part of Yellowknife Artists Co-operative (YAC) Fest 2022 program from the NWT Center for Arts, held in The Dome,
“For me, personally, it’s the most important part of the program,” Roland Laufer, treasurer of YAC, told Yellowknifer.
Laufer will manage the logistics of The Dome including heating and chairs for the guest, and showers for the performers.
Interwoven in the stories will be dance and song including performances by groups Sober Crew and Chubby Cree.
Laufer said the inclusion of the art is imperative to the healing component of the rally.
“Expression of feelings, situations and ideas in the First Nations community is about storytelling and passing on heritage of culture. Art is not an investment, income opportunity; it’s innate and has the power to heal,” Laufer said.
“I hope people show up regalia, ribbons, skirts, in all of their beauty,” said Whillans.
Whillans encourages non-Indigenous people to take part in the rally, in fact said their inclusion is “very important,”
“The only way we are going to bridge the gap is we get people out who can see our struggles. This rally is open to anyone and everyone,”
Whillans said that although there been some amends made at a provincial level — like the 20 per cent boost in cash for First Nations and Métis Peoples in Saskatchewan announced on March 26 — “It’s not enough,”
In order for reconciliation to happen, Whillans said, “we need some blame to be placed, some accountability.”
Whillans is aiming to hold the rally in a new location every three weeks.
After Yellowknife, her next stop is Edmonton on April 21 and then Calgary on May 5.
The last rally was in Calgary on March 13 and around 100 showed up.
“From feedback we are getting on social media, the Yellowknife rally will be huge,” said Whillans who is open to contributions to keep the rally going.
“As long as there is need— where going to go,” Whillans said, “Where going to stay in the face, stay up front, or we are just going to keep getting ignored. Too much has happened to our people. This needs to stop.”
Participants are to meet at The Dome on Great Slave Lake at 1 p.m. on April 3.
The Dome is located on the southwest corner of Jolliffe Island, 200 metres from the public boat launch near Weaver and Devore.