The Red Deer Native Friendship Society and members of the community walk as part of the Sisters in Spirit Vigil

Solidarity: Sisters in Spirit honour missing and murdered aboriginal women

After prayers and drumming that included an aboriginal warrior women’s song, Sisters in Spirit participants walked in solidarity to City Hall as part of the local vigil held on Saturday evening.

After prayers and drumming that included an aboriginal warrior women’s song, Sisters in Spirit participants walked in solidarity to City Hall as part of the local vigil held on Saturday evening.

Last year 216 Sisters in Spirit Vigils were held across the country in honour of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.

“It is a phenomena that’s happening everywhere, sadly, and part of it has to do with the hope of making a better life somewhere else,” said Tanya Schur, executive director of the Red Deer Native Friendship Society on Saturday.

She said life is especially hard for those who move off reserve. Better programs and supports are needed to make that big transition.

“Today is a really important day for us as a community to stand together,” Schur said.

Mayor Tara Veer said bringing justice to where there is injustice is important to her and she hopes violence against all women and girls would “absolutely be a resounding intolerance” in Red Deer.

“I am just so proud of everyone here. We have such a responsibility and imperative to raise awareness and affect social change for those victimized women and girls among us and across our country,” Veer said to about 60 people who came out to the vigil.

On Friday, the RCMP launched a social media campaign to help solve unsolved cases of missing aboriginal women and girls. Ten cases from across Canada will be featured on the RCMP’s Facebook and on Twitter until Oct. 12.

People are encouraged to visit to review the cases and learn how to submit a tip; ‘Like’ the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Facebook to see information about the cases and share them; and follow @rcmpgrcpolice on Twitter to read about the cases and retweet information.

In May the RCMP released, The National Operational Overview on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, the most comprehensive and accurate account to date of missing and murdered aboriginal females.

According to the report, aboriginal women are over-represented among Canada’s murdered and missing women.

Between 1980 and 2012, there were 1,017 aboriginal female homicide victims and 164 considered missing. Of these, there were 225 unsolved cases of either missing or murdered aboriginal females.

The number of aboriginal female victims of homicide has remained relatively constant while the number of non-aboriginal female victims has been declining.

The Red Deer Sisters in Spirit Vigil was sponsored by Red Deer Native Friendship Society, in partnership with Central Alberta AIDS Network Society, and Action Coalition on Human Trafficking Alberta.

“Across Canada, there has been increased attention on missing and murdered indigenous women and there has been some speculation that some of these women have been trafficked at some point along that continuum of abuse and exploitation,” said Andrea Burkhart, human trafficking coalition executive director.

According to the May 2014 study, Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls, prepared by Red Willow Consulting Inc. for Public Safety Canada, aboriginal women and girls are recruited by various methods including “coercion through ‘love’ and domestic violence, which means at times women are not aware they are being trafficked.”

The report went on to say: “The socio-economic determinants of sexual exploitation and trafficking tend to result from factors such as the legacy of physical and sexual abuse experienced in the residential school system, dispossession of identity and culture via the Indian Act, violence, racism and the marginalization of aboriginal women resulting in loss of culture, low self-esteem, poverty, and in a heightened vulnerability to being trafficked. Addictions among the victims of trafficking appears to be widespread, and are often the result of either being introduced to drugs as a method of control or are used to escape the harsh realities of being exploited.”

But Burkhart said trafficking is not just an aboriginal issue.

“One of the things we’ve found is a lack of awareness is really impeding the response to trafficking. There really isn’t a good understanding of what it is. There needs to be more training and more co-ordination and collaboration.”

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