Saskatchewan

More than 1,000 hearts bloom in La Ronge for Valentine's Day as tribute to MMIWG

"It overwhelms me every time," Kandis Riese says of the more than 1,000 hearts that have bloomed for the last four years at the centre of town each Valentine’s Day, representing missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

For one La Ronge woman, it's a reminder her cousin is not forgotten

A field of more than 1,000 hearts, each representing a missing or murdered Indigenous woman or girl, in La Ronge, Sask. (Submitted by Karen Sanderon)

When Kandis Riese first saw a field of hearts in her town of La Ronge, she said it was like getting hit in the chest with a bat.

"It overwhelms me every time," she said of the more than 1,000 hearts that have bloomed for the last four years at the centre of the northern Saskatchewan town each Valentine's Day, representing missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The first time she saw the field of hearts, she looked for the one for her cousin Mellissa Ivy Chaboyer, who was killed in 2005.

Each year, Riese would find herself engulfed in names, sorrowful for the loss — but never finding the one that was personal to her.

This year, a volunteer pointed her to the heart, a reminder that Chaboyer is not forgotten.

Kandis Riese's cousin Mellissa Chaboyer is among the 1,182 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls represented by a heart in a tribute in La Ronge. (File photo)

"I want my cousin always to be remembered as somebody who was loved and cared for," she said. "I feel sad but I feel thankful that her life is still represented that way."

Karen Sanderson, executive director of the Piwapan Women's Centre in La Ronge, said the centre first began the heart tribute to coincide with Vancouver's memorial march for MMIWG.

"It hits really hard because it's family members. All of us, and our family, have been affected by that," she said, noting her own aunt was murdered and her cousin has been missing for two years.

"It's the impact of that loss, and that sense of helplessness [that] hits close to home for a lot of families."  

It was a –26 C day as she and volunteers with the women's centre worked for two hours to erect this year's hearts in a field in La Ronge, about 350 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

The Piwapan Women's Centre in La Ronge first began the tribute to coincide with Vancouver's memorial march for MMIWG. (Kandis Riese)

It was in that very location that the hospital where Chaboyer herself was born once stood, said Riese — something that struck her as profound.

"You just don't know what life's going to be," she said.

'They belong to somebody'

Chaboyer was killed in November of 2005. She'd been driving a cab as a way to make extra money to buy Christmas gifts, when she was stabbed to death by her two passengers, and left on the ground by her vehicle.

Her cousin lived a good, clean life, helping to foster children and working with elders, and was a person whose smile would shine through even as she talked, recalled Riese.

La Ronge's Happy Charles has been missing since April 3, 2017. (Kandis Riese)

"The hearts, what they don't show is the number of people who've been left behind who have been traumatized and hurt," said Riese.

She thinks if all those who have faced the loss of a MMIWG loved one would be represented with a heart, the field would overflow.

"I think of that too, because these women were mothers, sisters, grandmothers, cousins, aunties," said Riese.

"They belong to somebody."

About the Author

Janani Whitfield spent 10 years working in the newspaper industry in Alberta before joining CBC Saskatchewan as a web writer in 2017. Contact her at janani.whitfield@cbc.ca on on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.

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