After walking from the Keeginaw Friendship Centre to City Hall, organizer Deborah Trask read out the joint statement that was read at all of the Sisters in Spirit vigils across the country that day, adding, “Our women are not for hurting!”
One of the event’s volunteers, Robin Westergaard, says the hope each year is that the federal government will launch an inquiry into the high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across the country.
“I think at a national level, more of a magnifying glass needs to be really focused on this,” she says. “The powers that be, whoever they are, they really need to step up. Realize that this is what we’re saying: we need this. We need to have a voice and it needs to be heard.”
Westergaard’s cousin’s 15 year old daughter Roxanne Thiara went missing from Prince George in 1994, and her body was later found dumped near Burns Lake. She says it took a couple of years after that incident for its full impact on her family and the community to sink in.
“This is something that’s been going on for a long time and where have the eyes been?” she asks. “Who hasn’t been watching this, or who has been watching this and not doing anything about it?”
That’s when she decided to get involved in the Sisters in Spirit campaign. She believes holding the annual vigil is crucial to raising awareness, as it seems that Aboriginal women are invisible to the rest of the country.
“At the time it wasn’t on the news, there wasn’t an amber alert. It was just another native girl that was in the [foster care] system,” Westergaard argues. “She’s gone. Where did she go? There wasn’t a whole lot of effort put into the search, and it is just about that recognition.”
Another way locals are working to raise awareness is through a billboard with the photos and names of the nine missing and murdered Aboriginal area from the area. Westergaard is still looking for sponsors to help with the cost.