The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop the Williams Lake Indian Band from marking the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Under sunny skies on May 5, Sharae Wycotte of WLIB and Cecil Sheena (Eagleshield) of the Okanagan Indian Band who was wearing regalia that took more than two decades to piece together, led the hastily organized parade at noon from the corner of Mr. Mike’s on Oliver Street in downtown Williams Lake to Herb Gardner Park where the group of approximately 50 people formed a circle.
“To be able to practice ceremony and traditions in our First Nation communities, it really means a lot for us to be able put this together on short notice and acknowledge our missing and murdered Indigenous women and children across Canada and across the world,” WLIB Chief Willie Sellars said, thanking everyone in attendance.
Executive director of the Cariboo Friendship Society, Rosanna McGregor said it brought pleasure to her to see everyone come together so quickly.
“One of the things that comes to mind was when I was growing up as a child my mother was a victim of domestic abuse and back in that day we didn’t have a transition house and I can proudly say today that we have Chiwid Transition House,” she said.
“My mom never left that violence because she didn’t have anywhere to go, so I would be remiss today if I didn’t remind people while we are in social isolation there’s still a transition house that’s open.”
While it was beautiful to see so many people, executive director of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, Jenny Pilbrick said it is upsetting they have to continue holding such events.
“I’m happy that there are different resources that we can use, and we have so many strong beautiful women here and I feel that we need to share that rhetoric, we need to share those stories, we need to take control of what people are saying because we know who we are,” she said.
“When you are hearing those stories of these missing and murdered Indigenous women I want you to let them know that these weren’t women living bad lifestyles. These are women who are deserving and strong just like the women you see in the circle, so by sharing those stories you give us strength.”
Making the 40 minute drive from Esk’et, Irene Johnson said she was honoring her sister Rose Marie Roper who was murdered in 1967 in Williams Lake. She said despite being only six years old at the time, she remembered seeing the pain it had caused members of her family.
“Today is really special for me to be here,” she said, adding young men need to be taught how to respect women.
“It’s everywhere but I think our real issue today is in our communities. We need to teach the culture and teach respect right when they’re little so we don’t have to keep this cycle going.”
Spearheaded by WLIB cultural coordinator David Archie, the group dispersed after the singing and drumming of “Peace Song” from Arthur Dick of Esk’et.
“Where we are invested is important and seeing that you chose to spend your time here with us and honoring such an important thing in all of our communities and all of our families we’re very blessed to stand in a circle with you,” Archie said.
“As you move forward when times are hard, remember this circle. Remember who stood with you and that there are many others who wanted to be here but were unable to, so we’re representing a lot of other people and our circle is strong and our circle includes everyone. It’s for all of us and we want to bring that awareness to each other, that we’re not opposing each other. We’re standing in the circle together.”
(Correction: This article has been updated after incorrectly identifying the relationship between Johnson and Roper.)