October 4 was the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Bonnyville Friendship Centre marked the day with its fifth annual Stolen Sisters vigil.

Many high-profile cases are part of Canada’s national awareness of the issue, but the Friendship Centre’s community initiatives director Janet Gobert says every community has its own stories of abuse and violence.

“It’s an issue that affects indigenous people in Canada and the United States as well,” Gobert said. “It’s really important to spread the awareness that this is something that is happening even in our own communities.”

There were prayers, performances, and powerful presentations from women who have suffered violence and who advocate for further education on the issue. Gobert said she also appreciated the words of support from Bonnyville – Cold Lake MLA David Hanson and Bonnyville mayor Elise Brosseau. 

Family Spirit Martial Arts gave a demonstration of self-defence techniques. There will be a more in-depth session at an Indigenous celebration at St. Louis parish hall on November 25.

Laura Grizzlypaws of Xwisten First Nation in British Columbia gave an inspiring performance with her young daughter. She explained that the bear is a mother figure and a protector, and performed a Bear Dance that showed the many sides of the grizzly bear’s personality.

Gobert was pleased with the turnout, which included Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the community.

“There was quite a cross-section of people attending,” she said. “I always go back to our mandate of bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous, so I’m really trying to push it in the community that our services are just not for Indigenous people. I think that really showed in the demographic that came out that night.”

And the Stolen Sisters vigil will continue.

“I’m trying to keep it bigger every year,” Gobert said.

A dancer in full regalia stands vigil; Laura Grizzlypaws and her daughter taught of the Bear’s protective nature through dance. SUBMITTED