'I'm not alone in this battle': Sisters in Spirit Vigil expected to draw hundreds

People in Edmonton are expected to join thousands across Canada in a vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls on Friday.

Sisters in Spirit Vigil comes after final report of national MMIWG inquiry

Last year's Sisters in Spirit Vigil drew over a hundred people to Edmonton's Boyle Street Plaza. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

The Sisters in Spirit Vigil in Edmonton is expected to draw dozens of people to Boyle Street Plaza on Friday in solidarity with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The Native Women's Association of Canada first called on groups across Canada to organize a vigil under the Sisters in Spirits banner in 2004. The annual event is one of a dozen taking place in Alberta on Friday, with many more scheduled across the country. 

"I think the main thing is to acknowledge the families and make sure we hear their voices," said organizer Rachelle Venne, the chief executive officer of Edmonton-based Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women. 

"It's very much a day to honour the one's that we've lost." 

The event will start with families sharing their experiences and end with an outdoor vigil. It comes five months after the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls published its final report and 231 calls for justice, aimed at addressing the root causes of the disproportionate levels of violence facing Indigenous people. 

"There is a plan that has been laid out with those recommendations on how we can stop the killings, stop the murders from happening," Venne said. 

The wide-ranging recommendations include calls for transformative changes to justice, education and healthcare systems in Canada.

"Each person has a role to play in order to combat violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] people," the report said. 

Indigenous women made up 27 per cent of female homicide victims in Canada last year, according to the latest Statistics Canada data, despite making up roughly 4 per cent of the female population. 

The inquiry also called on government and researchers to, in general, gather accurate statistical data on the experience of trans, non-binary and two-spirit people. 

Kari Thomason, a Cree social worker with Métis Child and Family Services, says the justice system and media often treat Indigenous people as less than equal, noting the RCMP's mishandling of the Amber Tuccaro case in particular.

But the Sisters in Spirit Vigil, Thomason says, is an opportunity to continue fighting for justice. 

"It's like we're not alone in this fight," she said. "We're not going to just sit in the back seat any longer and allow society to run us out. We're standing up for our rights." 

Thomason will speak on Friday night about her three missing and murdered family members. She says the chance to share her story with other families and a community of supporters is empowering. 

"I'm not alone in this battle. I'm not isolated. I'm not the only one that's been mistreated," she said. 

The province has published a list of Sisters in Spirit events across Alberta on its website