Vigil for murdered and missing Indigenous women to feature personal stories on video

Deborah Green’s voice wavers at the beginning of her story, about her big sister Eleanor Theresa Ewanin, whom the family called Laney.

“She was a very fierce woman,” she begins.

Green reads from a handwrittern note into a microphone that will record her story for the annual missing and murdered Indigenous women vigil.

“My sister Laney Ewanen is on the list of over 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, boys, men and two spirit,” she begins, her voice picking up strength. “I was the last born of my siblings.… I was 17 and my sister was 23 when she was murdered on a starlight tour.”

A “starlight tour” refers to being arrested, often without cause, and driven out of town to be abandoned in the middle of nowhere, usually in freezing temperatures. 

Every Oct. 4, vigils and events are held to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country. In Calgary, hundreds normally come together for the events.

This year, organizers are hoping the recorded stories will resonate with those who tune in.

“When we tell our stories, people that listen become part of that story and they bear witness to that story,” Green told CBC’s Terri Trembath. “So whether that’s in person, like we’re doing in sharing circles or through digital storytelling, I think it’s a powerful way to share the message more broadly.” 

She said her mother was also a fierce woman, who would be very proud of the work her daughters have done to keep their sister’s memory alive and to further awareness of missing and murdered women and girls.

“We all come from her, her blood, her DNA,” she said. “She’s very fierce. So fierceness is sort of the theme of my digital story today. And it all comes from her.”

Participant Deborah Green prepares to read her statement for the Oct. 4 vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. This year, the event will be limited by COVID-19 and will be done through virtual storytelling. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Green says her older sister grew up having to use every ounce of that quality.

“Fierce, protective, yeah, and she had to live a fierce life,” she said. “She had, you know, not a great life, not a good life at all, actually. So due to the history of this country and the many things that we hear of families going through, so to survive, she had to be fierce.”

The virtual storytelling project is organized by Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society.

“It’s the uniqueness of telling your story in a positive way of your loved one, and a memory in a short time frame, because we don’t want to just remember how they died or the gross injustice of everything after that,” Green said.

“We want to have good memories, too, right? So if we have people’s stories that are sharing good moments of their loved ones, it brings more love and light and positivity into the cause.”

Green hopes the digital storytelling will continue after this year. 

“I think it’s a great platform to share broadly,” she said. “I do think also, though, that there’s power in the walking and the unity of the women drumming and singing and walking to honour the loved ones. I think that’s a personal choice. I think there’s some of us that have to do that, you know, for our own healing, and know some, of course, that can’t.”

Josie Nepinak, executive director of Awo Taan, says they are hoping this new approach of video storytelling will be very powerful for the vigil this year.

Josie Nepinak, executive director of Awo Taan, a women’s shelter, says she hopes loved ones gain some comfort from watching a video presentation during this year’s vigil. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

“When families are lonely and families are feeling alone and desperate, then watching this video might help them,” Nepinak said.

Nepinak says this is the 17th year for the Sisters in Spirit Vigil. 

“We also do that to remember that these women were mothers, they’re grandmothers, they’re daughters, they are someone’s aunt, and that they are very loved and they are missed and have been taken away from us so quickly,” Nepinak said. “And they didn’t deserve to die the way that they did, often through homicide, through very violent acts against them.”

The videos will be posted to the Awo Taan Facebook page on Oct. 4, starting at 11 a.m., followed by live-streamed panel discussions. The Calgary Tower will be lit in red on that day to honour the murdered and missing.

“We’re going to start with our digital storytelling. And we’re also going to have a panel of four speakers. And the four speakers will be from this group who are here today. We’re going to talk about moving forward and what people can do to support our initiatives,” Nepinak said.

For more information on the women’s shelter and the vigil plans, go to the Awo Taan Healing Lodge website.

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