Tree of Hope raising awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls

·3 min read

A tree with 2,000 red lights will be lit up at the Mattagami River as a way to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) in Canada.

Timmins Police Service (TPS) will be hosting an event on Sunday, Nov. 14, in partnership with the TPS Indigenous Advisory Committee and community members.

It will be held at the Mattagami River boat launch.

Each bulb on the tree represents MMIWG.

There will also be a blue and red star on top of the tree showing the “working, good relationship” between the law enforcement and the Indigenous people, said Brenda Beaven, the TPS community liaison co-ordinator.

Starting at 6 p.m., there will be a sacred fire for people to say a prayer and put their tobacco or an offering. The TPS was gifted 215 orange tobacco ties that will also be placed in the sacred fire as a way of honouring the 215 children whose bodies were found at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Following smudging and people sharing their stories, the tree will be lit up at 7 p.m.

The idea for the Tree of Hope campaign was started by a Thunder Bay Police Service Const. Charlene Bordeau after a report was released stating that racism “exists at all levels” within the police service in Thunder Bay.

The Broken Trust report with 44 recommendations was released by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director's (OIPRD) in 2018.

Since 2019, TBPS has been reporting its progress in addressing the recommendations.

Beaven said Bordeau invited police services in other northern communities to join the campaign to bring more awareness across the north and the province.

In addition to Timmins police, Bordeau also invited police services in Sudbury, Barrie and the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service, according to Beaven.

“Our tree is going to be lit at the same time as Sudbury’s tree, Thunder Bay’s tree and UCCM’s tree,” Beaven said expressing hope the event will continue to be held in the years to come.

Mary Boyden, who sits on the TPS Indigenous Advisory Committee, said the location for the Timmins event has cultural and historical significance.

Before the City of Timmins existed, Mattagami River was used as a travel route used by First Nations people. As the river connects north and south, people would dock their boats and do trading at Mattagami Landing, Boyden said.

“That landing has always been an important place. When mining started, it opened up a whole different opportunity because there were no roads, no highways. People just travelled by the water,” she said. “The water was what people could count on.”

The Tree of Hope event will acknowledge the MMIWG and give an opportunity for people to reflect, honour MMIWG and show their support to those affected.

“It’s not about making people feel bad. It’s when we understand the stories, we can start to be sympathetic to each other, respect each other’s histories. The bottom line is we’re respecting the land we all live on,” Boyden said. “We have to keep learning how to do things better into the future. This gives us an opportunity to do that.”

A 24-hour residential school crisis line offering support to former students and their families is available at 1-866-925-4419.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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