Inside the circle, women shared stories of abuse, loved ones lost, and mistreatment by officials who were supposed to protect them. The women held each others’ hands and passed one another tissues.

They also laughed.

Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo
Marie Speakman, a family support worker at the Native Women’s Assoication of the NWT, speaks at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girrls in Yellowknife in January.
Jan. 22, 2018

“We’re a big family, and as Dene people we like to share and laugh with each other,” Marie Speakman, a family support worker at the Native Women’s Assoication of the NWT, said as she tidied up after the session.

About a dozen women and one man sat in a circle inside a cozy, carpeted room at the Native Women’s Association of NWT on May 15 to share their hardships and triumphs. They talked about the devastating impacts colonialism and residential schools, and told the group how they stand up for themselves and other Indigenous women, and how they practice Dene teachings.

When the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls visited Yellowknife in January, survivors and families were promised aftercare. Last week’s the sharing circle – at which photos could not be taken – was meant to be a part of that.

But Speakman has been hosting sharing circles for more than a year – months before the commissioners came to town last winter.

“People need to know they’re not alone,” she said.

In the circle, people have a space to be sad, be mad, speak out and support each other.

The sharing circle allowed Noeline Villebrun to speak her truth, “whether anyone in that circle agreed with me or not,” she said in on Thursday.

People of all genders are welcome to attend, and share or just listen.

“You went through trials and tribulations but (you are not) a victim of those events, it’s not who you are,” said Speakman.

“As a Dene person, you have a heritage, you have a strong tradition, you have a strong sense of knowing who you are and where you come from and at the end of the day, you’re a person who is still able to reach out and help and keep moving forward.”

Speakman said there has been a need for follow-up care since the inquiry left Yellowknife.

“One of the ways that I help is to do sharing circles,” she said.

Despite being busy with the day-to-day activities of the Native Women’s Association, Speakman tries to hold sharing circles as often as possible.

After the stories, there is food and mingling.

“We’re a big family,”said Speakman.

“We’ve gone through many hardships and we still strive to do good in a community.”

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