Williams Lake helps paint Canada red for missing and murdered Indigenous women

·3 min read

Boitanio Park’s outdoor stage was the scene of drumming and singing Saturday afternoon (March 13) in Williams Lake as dozens of people stood in solidarity to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).

A few days prior Cecil Sheena (Eagleshield) was busy putting the word out of the Canada-wide event being held at noon.

His friend, Danielle Jack, had asked him if he could get something going in Williams Lake as Jack, a survivor of sex trafficking, organized an event in Merritt.

“We got to take care of our relatives and one another,” Sheena said.

“You don’t know when somebody is going to go missing, or when somebody is going to pass on to the other world—every day, every minute counts.”

As they prayed for the murdered and the missing, Xatśūll First Nation (Soda Creek Indian Band) economic development and employment coordinator Cheryl Chapman said they also take a moment to think about their communities and personal and extended families.

She noted she is blessed to have her 79-year-old mother with her today.

“We’ve lost a lot of really beautiful people,” she said. “We’ve lost a lot of our history books.”

Chapman reminded the socially distanced group to remember to pray and sing for themselves as well and recalled how when she went to the Navajo Nation in 1995 and stood near Spider Rock with her husband’s sister Kristy Alphonse-Palmantier.

Chapman said she started to shiver from the blowing wind; however, Alphonse-Palmantier told her to face it and let it heal her, taking away whatever pain, fear, or anger she may be feeling.

“I love the wind beautifully blowing today,” Chapman said.

Sts’ailes Nation member Carrie Phillip (Shxwenatqwa) said she was taught the heart of their people is the drum, and the songs come from the wind.

The member of the Vancouver dance group, Butterflies in Spirit, which raises awareness of MMIWG across the country, said many felt hurt when a non-Indigenous man walked through their performance held outside a federal building in April 2012.

“But I said that represents the ignorance of society—they don’t know what it is, our life experiences,” Phillip said.

“And if we ever ask ourselves as to why things are the way they are today, it’s because of historical trauma.”

Rosalie Montgomery of Yunesit’in sent prayers to MMIWG and her brother who she said she had never met after he went missing at 13 in the Yukon area.

Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) continues to see BC Transit roll through its community of Sugar Cane and give out free tickets in an effort to encourage people not to hitchhike, said WLFN coun. Shawna Philbrick.

“I saw this yesterday and I’m glad I did,” she said of the event.

“It’s really healthy to bring our people together, especially at this pandemic time.”

Sheena reminded everyone how simple acts of kindness could mean the world to strangers and change their life.

After the event, Williams Lake RCMP uniformed officers Nick Brown and Nicole Bagusch told Sheena they were honoured to have been invited to attend.

Rebecca Dyok, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Williams Lake Tribune