SASKATOON — For the 10th year, Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik (Women Walking Together) organized an Oct. 4 Sisters in Spirit march to bring support and awareness to the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women, and missing and murdered people in general.
“How does a 78-year-old woman in a safe community suddenly go missing?” asked co-chair and MC Myrna Laplante, referencing the 2007 disappearance of her aunt Emily Osmond from Kawacatoose First Nation. “How is it that a woman that goes out with her partner is all of a sudden found deceased?”
Laplante was one of many who spoke about missing or murdered loved ones at the well-attended gathering. The march was led by a female drum group from Station 20 West through the core neighbourhood, followed by greetings from Saskatoon Tribal Chief Felix Thomas, Métis-Nation Saskatchewan President Robert Doucette, and Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill.
Thomas said that he wants more done to prevent these crimes from happening. Doucette spoke of his own female family members, before noting that history records this happening even in the 1800s.
“Conservative Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was receiving letters complaining about Aboriginal women being (taken and abused, or disappeared or coerced into the sex trade) and he did nothing,” noted Doucette.
Weighill also weighed in, saying that as a police chief he tries to stay apolitical, but it is hard not to make observations over time.
He agrees in that it is a crominal matter when people are killed or disappeared. “But when you see the socio-economic factors, the poverty, the racism, it’s also systemic. We need to get to the root cause of this.”
Saskatoon City Police are collaborating on a monument to provide a memorial and a place to gather or reflect.
After soup and bannock and official greetings, family members and friends were invited to light candles and mention whom they were for. Several family members spoke about their experiences, beginning with Monica Bosse, Daleen Kay Bosse Muskego’s sister-in-law.
“Our story began in 2004 . . . and we didn’t find Daleen until four years later,” Monica said. “She’d been lit on fire . . . Douglas Hales is currently in jail for 15 years so our family received justice if you can call it that. My niece doesn’t remember her mom.”
Carol Wolfe spoke about her daughter Karina Beth Ann Wolfe, who has been missing five years now, via an interpreter. “She’s my only daughter. The last thing she signed was ‘I love you Mom’ — now five years later I’m still waiting for her to come home. I will never stop searching for her. I will not give up on Karina. . . . When will the governments listen about murdered and missing in Canada? It is time.”
She also requested people to remember the missing and murdered, and their families, in their prayers. Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, co-chair with Myrna LaPlante of the organizing group Iskewewuk E-Wichiwitochik which began in 2005, shared her own experience with cousin Shelly Napope, a victim of John Crawford, a serial killer.
“The family had reported her missing about 30 times and that was something I learned over the years. Also back then before all of this awareness is the way the media portrayed Shelly and over the years her lifestyle — I don’t think people realize these are loved ones, people missed them, they impacted their families and they were missed. When she was located, even the media were at the reserve taking footage of her casket being brought in, there was just no privacy for the family to mourn. All I could do was pray for my aunt.”
She wanted to show what families of the past had to endure quite typically, and spoke about improvements that have come forth via advocacy and education. She also urged people to keep families in their prayers and continue to share photographs on social media when women go missing, even just to support the families.
Marilyn Wapass spoke about her sister for the third time in a week.
“It’s been a rough week. Fourteen years ago my little sister went missing here in the city. I looked for her and couldn’t find her and didn’t have the best relationship with the police and went back home — it was just too much stress for me to stay in the city,” Wapass explained. “But my sister’s body was found in a shallow grave outside the city by a farmer. We had to have two funerals because they found more body parts.” Someone was arrested for the murder and the family attended court to witness prosecution, but the judge threw out the killer’s confession.
“My sister’s killer walked free. For a long time I was very upset,” she shared, but speaking with other families helped her to find her voice and raise it. “Today I speak out and attend vigils like this. To honour my sister’s life and to raise awareness on this issue, what I refer to as a crime against humanity.
She thanked Weighill for his ongoing attempts to make change in a broken system.
“We live in a very dark world. We live in a world where little girls can be found dead . . . like that little girl in Alberta last month. She wasn’t Aboriginal but she was a human life. And we’ve got to remember that a life is a life, and all life is sacred, regardless of what skin colour you are. We need to be able to stand for that life, with love, with forgiveness. We need to be proud of who we are as Aboriginal people, we need to heal because we have a very important purpose: we are the protectors of Mother Earth. And Mother Earth needs us. We need to heal, we need to stand with love and stand with forgiveness. We need to stand for all those women who have been murdered, and honour their lives.
“We need love because love is more powerful than anything.”