An all too common story By: rachel levy-mclaughlin

Golden light illuminates the scarves, hats and sombre faces in the town square. Gloved hands hold candles and signs reading “No more stolen sisters on stolen land,” and “Protect the sacred.”

A semi-circle has gathered around a small microphone stand. Six people stand at the head of the semi-circle, facing each other, forming their own circle. They drum and sing, and the crowd tries to sing along with them.

Springer Market Square in Kingston is filled with attendees for the vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women on the evening of Valentine’s Day. The vigil takes place in several cities across the country in order to honour the memory of Indigenous women and girls who were murdered or have gone missing. It also serves to raise awareness of the issue to those who may not understand it otherwise.

Organizers of the vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women lead a song to begin. Photo by: Rachel Levy-McLaughlin

The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women took a long time to come to the attention of the Canadian public. It is an issue that had for decades been underreported, or not reported at all. In 2014, the RCMP released a report on the known cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the country. The report cites evidence for more than 1,180 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The report has since been updated, increasing those numbers.

That report launched a national inquiry and has propelled numerous mainstream media outlets to investigate some of the cases on their own, as the CBC has done. A long-overdue discussion began taking place and the issue came closer into the public eye.

The banner for the missing and murdered Indigenous women vigil stretches across the square, facing the road for drivers to see. Photo by: Rachel Levy-McLaughlin

Kingston and its surrounding areas are by no means exempt from this trend of missing and murdered Indigenous women. All of the organizers, who are from different Indigenous communities, share very personal stories of losing family members and friends.

Colleen Ariel Linseman and Ryan Sage, both non-Indigenous, hold candles and signs to show support for the Indigenous communities of Kingston. Photo by: Rachel Levy-McLaughlin
Two women, who preferred not to give their names, listen to speeches at the vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Photo by: Rachel Levy-McLaughlin

In the city of Kingston, Springer Market Square is the place for demonstrations of any and all kinds. It’s where this vigil has been held for several years. It's the central meeting point of the city, located at one of the main intersections and right across from City Hall.

This year, the vigil drew more people than previous years according to the vigil’s organizers. They chatter amongst themselves about the high turnout this year.

A crowd gathers on Valentine's Day evening for the missing and murdered Indigenous women vigil at Springer Market Square in Kingston. Photo by: Rachel Levy-McLaughlin

The vigils for missing and murdered Indigenous women take place mostly to honour the memory of those who were lost, but they’re also to raise awareness that this issue is still prevalent in Canada. The speeches in Springer Market Square highlight that despite the national inquiries, polices and reports that are taking place, Indigenous people are still subject to violent discrimination.

“It’s important that people understand that violence continues against Indigenous people,” said Mance Granberg, member of the Abenaki First Nation in Quebec, and one of the organizers of the vigil. “It’s important for others to come here and learn.”

From the faces in the crowd, it is clear that many are there to learn. A few young parents have brought their children along to the vigil. Five and six year olds cling to their mason jars with candles flickering behind coloured tissue paper. They draw designs on the bricks with their gloved fingers as the crowd listens to speeches.

Natasha Stirrett, member of the Ermineskin Cree First Nation, delivers her speech to the attendees of the missing and murdered Indigenous women vigil. Photo by: Rachel Levy-McLaughlin

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

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