Nfld. & Labrador

Sisters in Spirit vigil honours missing and murdered women and girls

A vigil, including a community dinner, was held in St. John's on Friday to honour missing and murdered women and girls, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Formerly known as In Her Name Vigil annual event honoured lives of missing and murdered women and girls

Red dresses — a symbol for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls —hang from the rafters of the Cochrane Centre. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

With a new name, the annual event honouring the lives of missing and murdered women and girls in Newfoundland and Labrador was held in St. John's on Friday night.

Formerly known as the In Her Name Vigil and held on the steps of the Colonial Building, this year's event joined others held Oct. 4 across the country known as Sisters in Spirit. 

The vigil was organized by First Light St. John's Friendship Centre and the St. John's Status of Women Council. 

"Traditionally, that day honours Indigenous murdered and missing women, but First Light really wanted to be inclusive, as they always are, and make this an all-nations event," says Laura Winters, executive director of the Women's Centre. 

She said the annual vigil was shifted this year because First Light brought up a desire within the community to have more space for healing and more Indigenous culture and ceremony at the In her Name Vigil. 

The event included speakers, music by Eastern Owl and a community dinner at the Cochrane Centre at 81 Cochrane St.

Laura Winters is the executive director of the St. John's Status of Women Council, which is helping host a Sisters in Spirit Vigil Friday night in St. John's. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

'For coming together'

The space at the centre includes artwork done by incarcerated women, who created pieces in order to participate in the evening, as well as red dresses — a symbol for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

"When you come into the space, you'll see the visual impact of some of the work that's been done there," Winters said.

The event also included time and space for the families and friends of missing and murdered loved ones to speak and/or display a photo, if they wish.

"It should be an evening for coming together, for connecting, for honouring the lives of women that are murdered and missing in the province," she said.

Candles for the 117 missing or murdered women and girls light up the stairs at the Colonial Building during the In Her Name Vigil in 2017. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

In January, Chantel John of Conne River was allegedly killed by her ex-partner, who is charged with first-degree murder.

In August, a 36-year-old woman was found lying on Minerals Road in Conception Bay South with injuries, and died later in hospital.

Police said her death was suspicious, and on Friday afternoon the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said its investigation remains active. 

Const. James Cadigan said investigators are waiting on lab results, and still asking the public for CCTV video, dashcam video or anything that may help in the investigation.

In Her Name in December

Though the October event has taken a different format, the In Her Name event held in previous years will also continue, but on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, Dec. 6.

"It's actually a really appropriate day to hold an event like In Her Name," said Winters, who added that it is good to now have two days on which to bring attention to violence against women.

Memorial University holds an annual vigil that day for the 14 women killed at Montreal's École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989.

Winters said the community has been clear that the political activism of that annual event is important, and they're still working out the details of that event. 

"They also named the fact that the weight of that event was an important way to draw attention to that issue."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Katie Breen