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Ontario CWL honours missing and murdered indigenous women

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

08/02/2017

The walk that took place at the Ontario provincial CWL convention ended in a sacred circle where a drum song, smudging, sharing by the grandmothers, gifting of tobacco and collection of the vials of water (brought by members), ended the service at this site. To conclude the service of remembrance and honour, the collection of water was taken to the McIntyre Floodway, to be presented to Lake Superior. (Photo by Lisa Henry)

OTTAWA (CCN) — Solidarity with indigenous women played a central role in the Ontario Catholic Women’s League’s annual convention July 9 - 12 in Thunder Bay.

“Thunder Bay is highly populated by First Nations people,” said CWL Ontario’s past president Pauline Krupa, who finished her two-year term as president at the convention. Thunder Bay is a hub for indigenous people who come to the city for medical reasons, for education, for incarceration and other reasons.

“I wanted people to be aware of how many murdered and missing women there are in our province,” Krupa said.

In preparation for the convention, Wilma Vanderzwaag crocheted 400 red heart-shaped bookmarks, each with the name of a murdered or missing indigenous woman or girl from Ontario, with some from Northern Quebec and from Manitoba.

Krupa also asked Cindy Crowe, the Lodge Keeper and executive director of the Blue Sky Community Healing Centre, to become involved in the planning.

With Crowe’s help, the convention featured a ceremony called “Walking in Spirit with Our Indigenous Speakers,” that began with each delegate placing an earring on the Tree of Life decorated with the crocheted hearts, and removing one of them.

Krupa said as the women picked names randomly off the tree, one woman picked someone with the same name, another picked one with her daughter’s name. The delegates then were “asked to keep it with them for the whole afternoon, as we journeyed through this whole thing, keeping this woman in prayer and in thought.”

Crowe and indigenous drummers then led the 250 delegates who processed on the conference grounds each carrying a vial of water from their home community.

“All brought three ounces from their homes,” said Crowe. “Some had water from the Jordan, from the St. Lawrence, and different areas.”

Crowe then led a large sharing circle that also included indigenous grandmothers who shared their experiences.

“One of the ladies who came was actually missing for four years herself,” said Krupa. Another woman shared a story of extreme abuse at home. “They really got us to understand what they had lived.”

After the ceremony, the water was brought to the McIntyre Floodway that flows into Lake Superior.

“That was very symbolic to have brought all of that water together and release it into Lake Superior,” Crowe said. “Hopefully, we helped to enlighten them. The young people being found dead are being found dead in the rivers. That’s why Spirit is bringing our attention to the waters.”

“It was extremely powerful,” she said. “They were gracious participants. You could tell they were extremely committed to the process and really wanting to understand the situation better.”

“I’m always happy to work with the Catholic Women’s League,” Crowe said. “We’ve done some work with them before when they introduced the idea to me, they were very excited.”

“It’s education not only for the women attending the conference, but also for the women I brought with me, an education for everyone to gain a better understanding of the worldview of others.”

“That was a very large sharing circle: more than 250 women,” Crowe said. “A circle acknowledges that we’re all equal, nobody greater than or less than.”

Many CWL delegates who were teachers or married to teachers, or who otherwise had contact with First Nations people also shared, she said.

“Once we as humans start sharing experiences with other we can have a greater understanding of their perspective,” Crowe said. “It worked both ways for everyone. “There were a lot of tears shed that day by most everyone.”

The convention also adopted three resolutions, one of which focused on indigenous issues. That resolution calls for the implementation of the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Gladue decision that recognized mitigating social and historical factors that judges should consider when sentencing indigenous offenders. The resolution also highlights the marginalization, discrimination, abuse and other factors contributing to high incarceration rates of indigenous women.

That resolution and another asking the government to remove the GST from child safety products such as car seats will be submitted to the national CWL convention. A third resolution involves Ontario’s Bill 163 on First Responders that presumes exposure to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The resolution asks that nurses be added to the list.

The convention also featured a keynote address by Cardinal Gerald Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, who spoke on Amoris Laetitia and evangelization.

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