by Paula E. Kirman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – June 14, 2023 was declared Okîsikow (Angel) Way Day in Edmonton.
Located in the Boyle Street neighbourhood, Okîsikow (Angel) Way is an honorary name for 101A Avenue between 96 and 97 Streets. The street was named in 2011 to raise awareness of victims of gender-based violence, including women, children, and gender-diverse people. Okîsikow is the Cree work for angel.
At an outdoor ceremony attended by around 100 people, new crosswalk art and sign blades were unveiled. The crosswalk art was designed by Edmonton artist Nikk Goodswimmer. The late Gloria Neapetung, a member of Yellow Quill First Nation who was an activist and street survivor, designed the street blades.
“We’re working on making this street name permanent now,” said Mayor Amarjeet Sohi in a video presentation. “It is our hope that Okîsikow Way, which is also called Angel way, will be a place where survivors can find understanding and support.”
The Okîsikow (Angel) Way initiative, which aligns with the City of Edmonton’s Indigenous Framework and the Community Safety and Well-Being Strategy, is a collaboration between Elders, the Stolen Sisters and Brothers Action Movement, the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE), MacKintosh Consulting, The Butterfly Project, and Ayana Communications, with support from the City of Edmonton.
“Okîsikow Way Day was the accumulation of 12 years [of] collaborative work between the city and community partners who are committed to ending gender-based violence,” said Liz John-West, the new Executive Director of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) in an emailed statement to Alberta Native News following the event. “The fact we now have a physical manifestation of this commitment by the city and community partners gives us hope to continue to ‘move the dial’ in building a society where gender-based violence no longer exists.”
April Eve Wiberg of the Stolen Sisters and Brothers Action Movement emphasizes that Okîsikow Way Day is a grassroots, multicultural, long-term, and sustainable initiative, and that a recruitment strategy for the volunteer working committee is being developed. She shared words from Sheri Campeau, Gloria Neapetung’s sister. “She was a survivor … an artist I admire greatly because I knew the pain she had inside her to find the outlet, the expression brings tears to my eyes,” Wiberg read. “The work that has been done to raise awareness for missing and murdered is leading to global awareness and action.”
Edmonton is one of five cities in Canada with an Okîsikow (Angel) Way.