Jeanette Gamble’s mother has been missing since 1964. “When they took my mom, they took my life away. They took my language, the skills, the values of everything that a daughter is supposed to learn,” said Gamble. (Andréa Ledding photo)
SASKATOON — Oct. 4 began with a neighbourhood smudge walk organized by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), and ended with a Sisters in Spirit walk and vigil. Over 200 supporters and family members took part in one of 100 national Sisters in Spirit events. After walking through the streets with signs accompanied by drumming and singing, supporters returned to White Buffalo Youth Lodge for soup, a program, and a giveaway by organizers Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik (Women Walking Together).
Along with musical entertainment by community member Jorgina Sunn, missing and murdered women’s family members shared their experiences, and their hopes for the outcome of the national inquiry. Danita Big Eagle and Patricia Whitebear spoke about their missing loved ones and the excruciating pain all of the families experience in their extended absences. Whitebear, a survivor of the 60s scoop, encouraged those struggling to reach out for help, sharing the number of a national help line. Hope for Wellness in Ontario — 1-855-242-3310 — can be called toll-free.
“I understand and pray for all the other families, to heal whichever way you can,” said Whitebear. “There is a help line out there for anyone, whether you’re residential school or a 60s scoop or missing and murdered family members.”
She spoke of the difficulty, especially during holidays and family gatherings, when there was a notable absence and a sadness. MCs Patti Tait and Vern Linklater introduced the speakers, with Tait asking questions to the family members to be answered, mostly focussing on the upcoming national inquiry as well as their individual journeys.
“The inquiry has been a long time coming,” noted Big Eagle, adding that it was important the families be put first in the process. Whitebear added that the process was going to require careful, attentive listening to those nearest the issue, and it was important that families be the first and foremost subject of the inquiry.
Carol Wolfe spoke on behalf of her daughter, Karina Bethann Wolfe, whose body was found in November 2015 after being missing for five years.
“None of us gave up,” said Wolfe through an interpreter, thanking the many supporters over the years. “It’s been very very difficult — I have a space in my heart now that Karina’s gone.”
Wolfe shared memories of the last time she saw her daughter, the emotional process of reporting her as missing when she failed to show up for Wolfe’s birthday, and the harrowing court process once the murderer was charged and ultimately convicted.
“I would watch through the rain, the snow, and the heat for my daughter,” noted Wolfe, describing how she carefully picked out the casket once her daughter was discovered. “I did stand up to her killer and told him, ‘You murdered my daughter.’ ”
Wolfe thanked the many supporters during and after the trial process itself, including Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik who held a supper in her honour.
Monica and Faith Bosse spoke on behalf of Daleen Bosse Muskego’s family, thanking supporters for standing by them through the trauma of a long missing-person case, and the trauma of the trial once her body was located and a conviction obtained through an RCMP sting operation. Monica is Daleen’s sister-in-law and Faith’s aunt. Faith was a toddler when her mother went missing, and is now a young woman. She expressed her gratitude to the many supporters through the long process, recalling attending the many marches over the years as well as memorial runs.
The final speaker of the night was Jeanette Gamble, whose mother has been missing since 1964, when she was five years old, and her younger sister two. She lost her younger sister three years ago to alcoholism, a loss she says is closely tied to the childhood loss of their mother.
“When they took my mom, they took my life away. They took my language, the skills, the values, of everything that a daughter is supposed to learn.”
The morning smudge walk was attended by Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik co-chair Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, who was one of the speakers at both walks. She invited everyone to the evening vigil, saying that she had come to the smudge walk for healing as well, because of the hard emotional work with murdered and missing indigenous women and girls and their families.
Chief Bobby Cameron told the media they were trying to expand the healing smudge walks in communities across the province, at the program held in St. Mary’s Parish Hall on 20th Street, saying he believed the walk would grow significantly in size from the relatively small gathering of about 100.
“It’s about healing together, it’s about supporting one another on that healing journey. Many of us are going through difficult times. We have loved ones who are in hospital, we have loved ones who are in jail, we have loved ones who are on the street, we have the missing and murdered indigenous woman inquiry. Many of us have reasons why we need to take that healing journey together.”
Cameron was joined by other dignitaries, including national chief Perry Bellegarde, MLA Jennifer Campeau, upcoming Advocate for Children and Youth Corey O’Soup, and the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan, Vaughn Solomon Schofield.
Cecile Smith, president of the Pleasant Hill Community Association, thanked everyone for their prayers and leadership as well as attendance and support. She noted that they had held a smaller one the year before, organized by the community, which she described in as kind, great, welcoming, and supportive.
Smith noted that, although the neighbourhood had challenges and issues, the people themselves were good people and she was proud to call this area home. The morning walk, which began in St. Mary’s Community schoolgrounds, circled approximately 100 people through several blocks of the Pleasant Hill and Riversdale neighbourhoods before ending at the parish hall where a complimentary barbeque lunch was served.
The evening walk of over 200 supporters, which took place in sleeting conditions, travelled down 20th Street and over to 22nd before returning to the White Buffalo Youth Lodge on 20th St. Soup was served, and the speaking portion of the program took place.