Spirit vigil raises awareness about violence against indigenous women

Sisters in Spirit vigil participants pose in front of the York Tipi

More than 50 students, staff and faculty recently marched from York’s Vari Hall to Osgoode Hall Law School to raise awareness about violence against indigenous women.

The Spirit Vigil to Honour Our Stolen Sisters, presented by the Aboriginal Students’ Association at York, was held in support of missing and murdered women in Canada, and stressed the need for a national inquiry.

Sisters in Spirit vigil in front of the York Tipi
Many of the participants in the Spirit Vigil to Honour Our Stolen Sisters posed in front of the York Tipi with signs in support of a national inquiry into missing indigenous women

Sisters in Spirit Vigils are held annually throughout Canada on Oct. 4 to raise public awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, with the goal of ending violence committed against all women. While estimates put the number of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada at about 1,200 within the past 20 years, elder Laureen “Blu” Waters noted that in reality, this figure is much higher due to all of the violence that goes unreported.

ASAY Vice-President Karissa John shared a teaching she received by York alumna Megan Bertasson, current doctoral student at OISE and an active member in the Toronto indigenous community. The shared sentiment acknowledges: “Not only must we honour and remember our stolen sisters and their families, we also must recognize and raise awareness for the survivors of domestic violence and those women and girls that are still with us today. In doing so, we hope to bring healing to our families, our communities and our nations.”

Participants, including Professor Tania das Gupta’s students from her MIST 3680 course, carried placards, some with the names of missing and murdered indigenous women, as the crowd wound its way through Vari Hall and Central Square, and out towards Osgoode. The march ended at the York Tipi, where a ceremony, including a traditional prayer and sharing circle, was held to remember the missing and murdered women. Guest speakers included indigenous students, staff and faculty at York, and the circle was open to participants to share testimonies of friends and family members who have been deeply affected by violence.

Following the ceremony, participants gathered for a group photo in support of #IAmNotNext, a social media campaign empowering indigenous women by refusing to accept violence in their communities. Non-indigenous allies carried similar signs in support of indigenous women, declaring #IGotYourBack and #IStandByYou.

Students interested in learning more about the cause are welcome to join the Walking With Our Sisters Facebook page, follow Christi Belcourt’s commemorative art installation exhibits and participate in the annual Feb. 14 Strawberry Ceremony. For more information, visit the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services Facebook page or the Aboriginal Students’ Association at York Facebook page.

Students interested in taking York’s Indigenous Studies certificate option should contact the Department of Equity Studies at deqs@yorku.ca.