Tree of Hope lights up cold night

Dozens of people braved the cold evening weather to watch the lighting of the Tree of Hope to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Organized by the Timmins Police Service Indigenous Advisory Committee, the Nov.13 event included the New Moon singers and Thunder Creek Indigenous Drum Group performing in the snow, coffee, hot chocolate and pastries, as well as a sacred fire.

“It’s a way to increase awareness, talk about education and honour those missing and murdered women,” said Brenda Beaven, Timmins Police community liaison co-ordinator, who helped organize the event.

The location of the Tree of Hope has moved this year.

The inaugural tree was down near the Mattagami River boat launch. It is now located near the front entrance of the Timmins Police Service Station on Spruce Street South.

The event started in Thunder Bay, four years ago, when Const. Sharlene Bourdeau wanted to do more for Indigenous women after reading the report on missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

This is the second year the Timmins Police Service has taken part.

Kaitlynn Gaudette, who recently moved to Timmins from Thunder Bay, said that events like this show a want to do better by police services across the province.

“It’s a first step of many,” she said. “Hopefully in time, we can take down those barriers, instead of having gaps, especially in the way we protect Indigenous women.”

The tree, which features red lights to represent missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people and blue lights to represent the police’s efforts to work with the community, will be lit every night for the next year. Attendees were invited to tie red ribbons to the tree so that the meaning is clear during the day as well.

“Thank you to all of the people it takes to change the way things have been and to look toward the future,” said Mary Boyden, a member of the Timmins Police Indigenous Advisory Committee. “We are working on a future we can build together.”

Many of the speakers shared parts of their own stories and losses, including Ontario Native Women’s association branch manager, Virginia Sutherland whose mother was murdered in Timmins 36 years ago.

“We are here to support and empower Indigenous women as they take their leadership roles in our communities,” she said.

Timmins mayor-elect Michelle Boileau was unable to attend due to illness, and a member of MPP George Pirie’s staff delivered a message.

“As the tree of hope shines bright, it will give our community a chance to acknowledge and honour those missing and murdered indigenous women, and show support for those affected,” said Victoria Whissel on behalf of Pirie, who had been called back to Toronto.

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com