Mar09


Although October 4th is the official day for Sisters in Spirit‘s annual vigil to honour and remember the Indigenous women and girls who have either gone missing or been murdered, the second of two very heavy events on March 17th could not simply end without at least a few candles lit, and a little bit of outside air. After the panel presentation, most of the folks at Atwater Library made their way across the street to Atwater Park (or Cabot Square). There, candles were lit, and words were shared, both tender and very angry. A few women who were in the park when the vigil began joined in, sharing their personal stories with individuals there. One woman, a Native-African Nova Scotian who had found her way to Montreal was very emotional, repeatedly invoking the name of Anna Mae Aquash. Irkar Beljaars (organizer) and Bridget Tolley who spoke at the...

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On March 17th a Panel Presentation at Atwater Library brought hundreds of people out, many of whom were standing for over two hours. The panelists included Beverley Jacobs (president of NWAC), Ellen Gabriel (president of QNW), Laurie Odjick (mother of Maisy Odjick who has been missing since September), Bridget Tolley (daughter of Gladys Tolley who was killed by Quebec police), and Sue Martin (two of her daughters have died as the result of violence). Each woman spoke from her heart and spoke to the facts, and there was no contradiction there. Problems cited were consistent: the media pays little or no attention to their cases. When there is any media attention, it is usually skewed in such a fashion that seems to lay blame for the woman’s death or disappearance on her family or her “high-risk lifestyle.” The families of Indigenous women or girls who disappear are often told by police to “wait until Christmas,” or “wait until her birthday” for their daughters, sisters or mothers to reappear, as though they had simply run away. Abuses by the media and police were even more direct in some cases. Bridget Tolley’s mother Gladys was run over by an SQ cruiser in 2002 and she is still trying to provoke a serious investigation, to this day. According to Tolley, the police that originally “investigated” her mother’s death were the perpetrator’s brother. Sue Martin’s daughter was killed in her own home and the only suspect, the father of her three children, is still walking free and continues to maintain custody of their children. Laurie Odjick broke down several times talking about her sixteen year old daughter Maisy, who disappeared from the Kitigan Zibi reserve where they live in September 2008. She could not handle how little media attention the case was getting, and the fact that the police had no leads whatsoever. Police had recently told her that they suspected her daughter had run away, in spite of the fact that her wallet had been left behind, with money still in it. Beverley Jacobs, who has been working on issues of violence against Indigenous women in the public eye for many years now, lost her own niece a few years ago to a violent disappearance. “The problem is personal,” she said. Ellen Gabriel, who has also worked on the issue of violence against women for many years spoke with great energy which the crowd was very receptive to. She spoke about the root causes of the violence that Canada’s racist policies have caused, and continue to cause, such as the Indian Act, which targets Indigenous women particularly. From left to right: Sue...

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On Monday, March 16th, Beverley Jacobs came to speak at the McCord Museum in Montreal. Jacobs is the president of NWAC, an Aboriginal rights lawyer, and was a lead researcher in Amnesty International’s 2004 study Stolen Sisters: Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada. She also currently works to raise awareness across the country via NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit campaign. The root causes of violence against Indigenous women in Canada, from a forced shift away from the Matrilineal basis of many First Nations to patriarchal modes of determining “status,” was the crux of Jacobs’ talk. The Indian Act and the Indian Status Card are only two of many symbols of a deeply flawed change of direction that has caused First Nations communities, but particularly the women, to suffer brutally. Jacobs comes from the Mohawk Bear Clan in Six Nations, Grand River, and has a deep sense of history which she shared with those who came out to listen. Montreal is part of her traditional territory and the one request she made of her audience at the end of the night was: “Learn about the land you’re living on. Learn about its history.” Seeing as how one can’t find such historical knowledge in the educatioonal system, her words resonated deeply; a more personal kind of challenge was felt by many and seemingly embraced. In the photo directly above, Jacobs holds a Two Row Wampum Belt. The two rows represent Native and White cultures co-existing side-by-side without interfering in each others’ way of life. Jacobs sees the agreement as profoundly violated, but only by one party. Also in this picture: Kevin Daniels, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. To hear Beverley Jacobs speak in Montreal, click here:...

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On March 6th, 2009 a fundraiser was held in Montreal to raise money for two speaking events on March 16th and 17th–one, a lecture by Beverley Jacobs (President of NWAC), and the other a panel; presentation featuring Jacobs, Ellen Gabriel (President of QNW), Laurie Odjick, Beverley Tolley, and Sue Martin (all from families of missing and murdered women). The fundraising event included beautiful music, performance art, storytelling, drumming, and a silent auction. The silent auction featured art by several very talented local woman artists. Art exposure. Guests arriving. A performance piece by Emily Rose Michaud. Emily is sewing herself a dress of real, live dirt and grass. Nathalia, aka Auresia. Molly Sweeney on guitar. Annabelle Chvostek and her fiddle. Odaya, Native women’s drum circle. Melissa Dupuis shares a story and Emilie Monnet plays the drum. Chandra Melting Tallow, performative. Anna Banana. Deer by Frances Mackenzie of Teen...

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