More than 100 people took to Red Deer’s streets for the annual Sisters in Spirit Walk and Candlelight Vigil on Friday evening.
Launched in 2004, by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the event raises awareness about violence towards Indigenous women and to remind people of the number of murdered and missing women.
For the first time, the Alberta government declared Friday Sisters in Spirit Day to show provincial support for the cause.
In Calgary, Lt.-Gen. Lois Mitchell and Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson joined walkers on Friday morning. Wilson was then scheduled to participate in the Edmonton walk in the evening.
“We are proud to be part of the first Alberta government to declare Sisters in Spirit Day today to honour the memory of Indigenous women and girls who are missing or have been murdered,” said Wilson in a statement.
“Community vigils are held across Alberta and Canada giving families and loved ones a way to speak out for their daughters, mothers, nieces, aunts, sisters and grandmothers, whose voices have been silenced.”
Sasha Sage, an organizer of Red Deer’s walk, said the province’s move has been well received.
“For ourselves, it’s just the education part of it and getting people aware, and having those allies, those people on our side,” said Sage, who is a family support worker and cultural family educator with the Red Deer Native Friendship Society.
Sage was pleased with the number of participants, which was double last year’s turnout. Participants left the society’s offices at 4808 51stAve. shortly after 6:30 p.m. and made their way to the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.
She hopes the walk and vigil help to highlight the importance of the issue and to show support for the families and friends of loved ones who have been murdered or are missing.
“It’s about just raising awareness,” she said. Many of the women and girls had a red painted hand print across their mouths symbolizing the silence that surrounded the issue for too long.
Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Sharon Aheer said the government stands with “families with compassion for the loss of their loved ones and in condemnation of the violence Indigenous women and girls, in particular, continue to face.
“Every missing or murdered Indigenous woman and girl is a person to be honoured and mourned, and belongs to a family that needs answers, and a community that needs resolution,” said Aheer.
“We commit to building an Alberta where Indigenous women and girls are valued, respected and safe to live lives filled with hope and promise.”