The enduring pain of the relatives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and men was more than apparent at the 10th annual Memorial March held on February 12 in Edmonton as well as throughout Canada.
In Edmonton, approximately 200 supporters gathered at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples where Elder Linda Boudreau-Semaganis not only slammed the Harper government of this country for refusing to call a national inquiry but also criticized society in general which continues to exhibit prejudice and discrimination against Aboriginal people and society.
“It’s up to everybody to get pro-active and vocal about what we can do to stop losing those lives – two in the last few days (in Edmonton),” said Semaganis. “Those families are reeling,” she added.
“Our communities are saturated with grief and we don’t have enough people to get out there and help with their healing.”
“Some, ” she continued, “don’t even recognize they need healing because we’ve been taught not to show how we feel.”
One of the affected grandparents – Katie Dene – from Fort McKay, Alberta, addressed those in attendance to express her ongoing distress over a lost loved one. One of her girls, Shelly Tanis Dene who is in her mid-20s has now been missing for over a year. That, according to Katie, is very uncharacteristic of her.
“She usually phones no matter where she is and she hasn’t,” exclaimed Katie emotionally. Sobbing softly, but courageously hanging on to deliver her message, she summoned the additional strength she needed to state, “We need closure, the sooner the better.”
An unidentified woman in the crowd stepped forward and told of losing her aunt whose remains were found as was the man believed to have been the abuser. However, she stated, he was never charged even though the police had matched DNA evidence, and that was 20 years ago!
“It was so horrendous, so violent. I know that many of our people, many of our women have endured sadness, fear, loss, and in the end, loss of lives,” she stated.
Special guest, Chief Calvin Bruneau, of the Papaschase Band praised the bravery and value of Aboriginal women. He spoke of their traditional roles in the Aboriginal community and the importance of supporting them just as he does by participating in the annual memorial marches.
“We need to be standing up for our women,” he matter-of-factly said.
Yet another unidentified speaker told of a male who opened his heart and informed her that he had “hurt” women in the past. The man expressed his regrets, his remorse and requested her forgiveness. “It really touched me,” she claimed.
Then there were two Aboriginal men who had come in from Winnipeg for the occasion, two men on a mission. They explained that they travel all over the country to lend support to worthy causes that impact the Aboriginal community, issues like Treaty rights, residential school survivors and, of course, missing and murdered women.
There’s a need to “reclaim our spirit,” said Boudreau-Semaganis. “Every death leaves such a big hole in our hearts, in our families, in our communities and in our nation.”
She further encouraged those present to get on board, to “get mad” about the missing and murdered as well as “those who practice prejudice and discrimination.”
Following a smudging ceremony and prayer delivered by Boudreau-Semaganis, the marchers then departed the church, led by Chief Bruneau and four drummers/singers. The group trudged stoically through the wet, heavy snow on the side streets to and around City Hall, then back to the church. All that time, they drummed, sang, chanted and hollered slogans such as: “What do we want? Justice; When do we want it? Now; Who is it for? Women!”
Organizer, Danielle Boudreau recognized and publicly thanked all those who have helped out over the years with the cooking, setting up, security and volunteering. Some of the people, she noted, “have been helping us since we started marching 10 years ago.”
by Terry Lusty