Dozens of people from throughout the Kelowna community packed the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society on syilx territory on May 5 to honour and raise awareness around missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S).
May 5 has been designated as the National Day of Awareness and Action for MMIWG2S, and the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society observed the day with a community ceremony. The event included prayers, drum songs, a feast, open mic speakers and a march to the Kelowna Law Courts building.
The ceremony began with a prayer from Wilfred Barnes, a syilx Elder who shared teachings, saying that it’s sometimes easy for people to get lost in their grief.
“Especially this time of year when we’re honouring the murdered and missing young girls, women and boys,” Barnes said. “They’re very close to our heart, and we’ll never forget that. Ever.”
Barnes reminded those in attendance to recognize the support they provide to others.
“I see a lot of our people that have really big hearts that help each other out. They come through when the going gets tough,” he said. “We depend on each other and we look out for each other. That’s what I see in this room. It’s a room full of people with big hearts.”
A syilx artist and Westbank First Nation member was the ceremony’s lead singer and drummer for women. The artist requested that their name not be published because they were engaged in ceremony. Following Barnes’ prayer, the artist honoured the territory by singing the Okanagan Song, which was followed by speeches made by guests.
Mohini Singh, a Kelowna city councillor, said the community has a collective responsibility to look after each other.
“It’s important we look out for each other because that person walking on the street on that cold, dark night could well be missing the next day. Just remember that,” said Singh.
“Thank you for honouring the memory of those who are missing and have been murdered…this has to end.”
Cpl. Michael Kube of the Kelowna RCMP was in attendance and was invited to say a few words. He said that acknowledging the RCMP’s deep roots in colonialism and its history of perpetuating violence against Indigenous peoples isn’t enough.
“I pledged myself to affect change within the organization, the RCMP, from within. To try to educate all of our people about the history and injustice done by the RCMP, to work together to right the past wrongs and to build a better relationship with the community we owe it to,” said Kube.
“We owe it to those beautiful souls.”
Edna Terbasket, the executive director of the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, thanked Kube for attending and speaking at the event.
“When you spoke, I felt that pain. I felt that when you had some emotion there, that you’re there for a reason,” said Terbasket.
“Your commitment to change where you’re at will create that ripple effect that will make it easier for us to have that real truth and reconciliation.”
Following speeches and prayers, youth and other guests volunteered to help deliver food from the kitchen into the hands of those who attended, as part of the ceremony. During this time while the rain fell, folks pulled out their pumín (hand drums) and began walking together to the to the Kelowna Law Courts building, singing honour and prayer songs along the way.
After the walk, the ceremony ended with an open mic segment. Some honoured the memories of those they know who are missing or whose lives have been taken. Others called for more action to prevent harm against Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people.
Barbara Jagodics, the employment services coordinator at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, said that while she’s spent several years fighting for MMIWG2S, she wants more support from the community so they can take action together.
“But what can I do? I can help make sure they don’t get lost, they don’t fall through the cracks,” said Jagodics.
“If anyone wants to join me in my fight to help bring a group together and start helping with younger ones, something – do something. I don’t know what that looks like. I can’t do everything by myself. I need my brothers’ and sisters’ help here.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from a previous version to remove the name of the lead singer at the event. IndigiNews honours the fact that the artist, who was engaged in ceremony, requested their name not be published.
Aaron Hemens, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse