Natasha Stirrett, member of the Ermineskin Cree First Nation, stands at the microphone. She tells the story of her grandmother, who was murdered when she was 36, leaving her daughter behind at just seven years old. Her daughter, Stirrett's mother, was put into the child welfare system, and was disconnected from her community and culture.
“My mother didn’t just lose her mother. She lost her culture, her heritage,” said Stirrett. “She still deeply grieves every day.”
“I wish my story was a unique one,” said Stirrett.
As the Canadian public is learning more and more, Stirrett’s story is far from unique. According to the RCMP report as well as another report from the Native Women's Association of Canada, Indigenous women are disproportionately subject to violence. They make up around 10 per cent of the murders in Canada, yet only comprise about 3 per cent of the female population.
“We’re at a critical point here,” said Sue Livesey, a non-Indigenous women at the vigil. She said that the government needs to better handle relationships with Indigenous communities to help solve this issue.
“We love our sisters,” said Joy Ransberry, who is part Cree though cannot identify with a particular community because her heritage was lost. “We just want everyone to love them too.”
Joy Ransberry, left, who is part Cree, and Sue Livesey, a non-Indigenous woman, hold their signs in support of the missing and murdered Indigenous women vigil. Photo by: Rachel Levy-McLaughlin
As the speeches draw to an end, the organizers perform one last song. One that the crowd can join in as well.
Voices sing out in the cold, attempting to follow along in tongues they do not know. Their gloved hands are up surrounding the flames. As the winter gusts ebb and flow, their hands shield the flames and keep them aglow.
Attendees of the vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women shelter their candles against the wind. Photo by: Rachel Levy-McLaughlin