'We have to start somewhere': People gather to pay respects to MMIWG2S
Pipe ceremony, candlelight vigil held on MMIWG2S Honouring and Awareness Day
The smell of burning sage filled the Manitoba Legislature Friday, as people gathered to remember loved ones.
A pipe ceremony in the rotunda was among the events held to mark Honouring and Awareness Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit people.
Nikki Komaksiutiksak came to remember her cousin, Jessica Michaels. She was murdered in 2002, at the age of 17.
"It was horrible," said Komaksiutiksak. "An Inuit girl displaced from her family, here in Winnipeg, in the child welfare system."
The two came to the city from Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut. Komaksiutiksak says they were in and out of group homes, when Michaels "got involved with some scary people."
She says they both wanted to go back to Nunavut, but couldn't afford it. After Michaels died, people in Winnipeg helped raise money to send her body home.
"Even in her death, she was not taken care of appropriately."
A throat singer, Komaksiutiksak performed at Friday's ceremony. She says she and Michaels travelled the world as throat singers.
"It's a very important part of who we are and where we come from," she said.
MLA Bernadette Smith says bringing indigenous traditions into places like the legislature helps move Canada toward reconciliation.
"Prior to 1950, all of these ceremonies were outlawed for Indigenous people," she said.
"We had to hide these ceremonies. So for us to do this in a public space, burn our medicine, raise our pipes, have our drummers and singers come out, is really good to see."
Komaksiutiksak says events like these help raise awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
But she wishes she'd hear more about it from candidates running in the federal election. She says she's disappointed, but not surprised.
"We have to start somewhere," she said. "We're hoping to have effective change and that families will be able to pave the way for the younger generation so this sort of stuff doesn't happen to their children."
Komaksiutiksak gave birth this summer to a baby girl. She named her Jessica, in honour of her cousin.
"She's going to be the change-maker," said the new mom, smiling as she rocked her tiny baby in her arms. "The generation that makes sure people are brought to justice, and that changes will have already been made."
A candlelight vigil was held Friday evening at the MMIWG memorial located at The Forks. About 70 people, from young children to elders, were in attendance to pay homage to loved ones that have been taken away from them.
Shea Tara-Lynne, one of the people in attendance, told CBC News that events like Friday's vigil are important because it allows the community "to show support, and be there for each other and to come together."
Tara-Lynne was accompanied by her two daughters, Candace and Winter. They were there to remember Maressalyn Watson, who died in the spring of 2018.
Tara-Lynne said that Watson's apartment had been taped off for months after her death, and that the police deemed she died from a drug overdose. However, she is skeptical of that conclusion and finds police to be slow when it comes to investigating cases involving Indigenous women.
Smith, whose sister Claudette Osborne has been missing since July 2008, seems to be of similar mind.
At Friday evening's vigil, Smith said it seems the public is becoming desensitized to hearing about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. She noted that when 13-year-old Candace Derksen went missing in 1984, no children were allowed to go outside and all the families were out searching for the girl.
"Somehow we've shifted from that proactive response to not even reacting at all," she said.
"We turn a blind eye to it and we shouldn't be doing that. We should be wrapping our arms around the family and doing what we can to bring their loved one home."
Smith applauded the work of organizations such as Bear Clan, Mama Bear Clan and Drag the Red — a group that searches the Red River for possible remains. But ultimately, she says it has to be a concerted effort.
"It's not just a policing issue, or a city issue, or provincial or a federal issue — it's a human issue. And us, as society, really need to shift how we treat one another."