Edmonton vigil honours missing and murdered Indigenous women

More than 100 people gathered at Boyle Street Plaza in Edmonton Thursday night to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women.

'It's sad but it's also very empowering,' Chevi Rabbit says

Organizers April Eve Wiberg, left, Chevi Rabbit, centre, and Freda Ballantyne, right, walk outside Boyle Street Plaza during a vigil to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

More than 100 people filled a room in Edmonton's Boyle Street Plaza Thursday night for a vigil honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The 13th annual event was one of many Sisters in Spirit vigils that took place across the country. 

"The vigil is important because it creates awareness and provides support for families whose relatives have gone missing or are murdered and are no longer with us," said co-organizer Freda Ballantyne.

Families shared stories and ate bannock and stew together. Chanting and holding candles, they walked up and down 96th Street, from 103A Avenue to Okisikow (Angel) Way/101A Avenue.

The 13th annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil drew more than 100 people to Boyle Street Plaza Thursday night. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

The issue is a deeply personal one for Ballantyne. Shortly after she began searching for her birth mother, the Sixties Scoop survivor discovered her mother had been murdered.

Ballantyne said learning what happened lit a fire in her to start providing support and comfort to other people who have lost family members to violence.

It was a night of sadness, grief and anger, but not without laughter and hope.

Eight-year-old drummer Noah Green provided a playful performance and teenage activist Alexa Blyan drew a lot of applause for her inspirational essay about the power of Indigenous women working to reduce violence in their communities.

Noah Green, 8, and Carol Powder drum at a Sisters in Spirit vigil in Edmonton on Thursday, Oct. 4. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

"I think it's sad that it's happening, but I also think it's enlightened that we're all here coming together, healing," said Chevi Rabbit, who served as MC for the ceremony.

Rabbit said she recently learned about the unsolved case of an aunt who was murdered in the 1980s. 

Nearly everyone in the room had a story like hers. 

"It's sad but it's also very empowering that's we're coming here as a group and none of these names are forgotten," Rabbit said.

"I'm hoping that by us coming together, the future generations will have that sense of community, that sense of resiliency built within them."

According to Statistics Canada's 2016 Homicide Survey, Indigenous women were five times more likely to be victims of homicide than non-Indigenous women.

The federal government launched a $54-million inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) two years ago.

The inquiry continues in Winnipeg this week before travelling to St. John's later this month.