Sunday Oct. 4, 2020 a vigil and walk in honour of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit (MMIWG2S) was held in Wetaskiwin, Alta. When planning the event, organizer Chevy Rabbit says she had to really think, “what can I do to be really impactful?”
The Wetaskiwin Sisters in Spirit Vigil is one of the many that was held nationwide on Oct. 4 to honour the lives of more that 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and gender diverse people across Canada.
Having the vigil and walk in Wetaskiwin wasn’t enough for Rabbit however, “I just really want to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women,” she said.
“Hate to Hope” led a three and a half hour long walk from Maskwacis to Wetaskiwin with Rabbit and her friend Marilyn Tobaccojuice to attend the vigil and honour the MMIWG2S. This walk was to raise awareness for the families of MMIW and highlight the need for the Government of Alberta to implement recommendations from the MMIW report.
“It felt really good to do something like that,” says Rabbit. “It’s important that we recognize that we live in a system that continues to oppress Indigenous communities and create environments unsafe for Indigenous women, girls and two spirit women. That Indigenous women continue to face discrimination, hate, violence and racism at higher rates that non-Indigenous women.”
Rabbit challenges Albertans to not just pass by those walking on the side of busy highways, but question it.
“Why are people walking on the side of the road? What is happening in Canada? Are you part of the problem? Have you asked yourself do I work for a system, organization or business that is racist, discriminatory and hateful? Ask yourself how can I be the change?”
Rabbit and “Hate to Hope” partnered with the Wetaskiwin District Museum to host “Sisters in Spirit” Day in Wetaskiwin.
Guest speakers at the vigil in Wetaskiwin included MLA Rick Wilson; Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy; Alberta musician, MMIWG2S speaker and activist Stephanie Harpe; Maskwacis Elder Shirly Rabbit; and Wetaskiwin City Councillor Gabrielle Blatz-Morgan.
Other guest speakers included community members who spoke on their experiences and those they’ve lost who are part of MMIWG2S. Marilyn Tobaccojuice also performed a healing jingle dress dance accompanied by Drum Group and Singers Mountain Cree at the event.
“Clearly there are issues within Alberta and Canada with violence against Indigenous women and girls and murders against women and children,” says Rabbit. “How many dead bodies do you need to start taking action?”
Rabbit says that it still amazes her how many Indigenous families have been directly impacted by violence and murder. She says the vast majority either know directly, or have someone in their family, who is a stolen sister.
One of the ways Rabbit feels that the community and City of Wetaskiwin in its entirety can help in the fight to protect and prevent MMIWG2S is by developing an RCMP hate crime unit in the area. She believes that having a targeted unit that acts on reducing hate crimes in the community would be greatly beneficial to Wetaskiwin and would truly reduce the rate of hate crimes within and around the City.
The Sisters in Spirit Vigil took place from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and was followed by the attendees walking down the auto-mile to bring awareness for MMIWG2S. Rabbit says that everyone can help, no matter how small, it is just a matter of taking a moment to self reflect and think of the follow through of their actions.
“I think we have to start asking ourselves as Albertans, are we part of the problem?” Rabbit says it is important to ask yourself, “how can we be the change in the organizations we work for.”
Rabbit says it showing your support can be as simple as shopping or giving your business to inclusive organizations or stores.
The vigil was not only held to honour stolen Sisters in Spirit, but to bring further awareness of how big of an issue MMIWG2S is—an issue that is only growing across the country.
“It’s the big elephant in the room in Canada,” says Rabbit. “So many Indigenous women and families are suffering.”