Ceremony to honour victimized women brings police, First Nations together


Families of missing and murdered women, over 500 First Nations leaders and Canada’s top RCMP commissioner all took part in a powerful “cedar bough cleansing” ceremony at a national justice forum in Vancouver Tuesday.

Two rows of large colour photos of more than 60 missing women, lit by candles, were surrounded first by their loved ones, then encircled by men taking up the challenge to “protect and support” women and girls.

The ceremony launched a three-day “national justice forum” by the Assembly of First Nations, Canada’s largest national aboriginal group, at the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver.

Squamish Chief Ian Campbell, known as Xalek, called on male leaders “to honour and respect the lifegivers in our community” and help prevent the ongoing disappearance and death of hundreds of native women across Canada.

Campbell drummed and sang as Salish women dressed in traditional blankets and cedar hats and headbands slowly moved around the huge Bayshore Hotel ballroom, “brushing off” everyone with cedar, water, smoke and red ochre.

New RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, along with RCMP Chief Supt. Brenda Butterworth-Carr and Assistant RCMP Commissioner Russ Mirasty from the provincial missing persons task force, all stood to be brushed with cedar.

Paulson later repeated the RCMP apology of just two weeks ago, “expressing the regret of the RCMP that for not arresting Robert Pickton much sooner.”

After a solemn hour-long ceremony, Campbell told the 500 quiet people, “The (missing and murdered) ladies are here with us today.

“They’re looking at us. They need to know we’re OK, that it’s OK for them to move on now (to the spirit world.)”

Gary Silcott, 16, stood in front of a photo of his mother Tanya Holyk, a Pickton victim, with tears coursing down his face. “This is the first time I’ve ever met my mother and I definitely felt her presence here today.

“I was just stuck in one spot, talking to my mom and she was saying it’s OK. I was only nine months old when she disappeared. It was healing for me.”

Lorelei Williams, 31, who lost two close relatives including her aunt Belinda Williams, an unsolved case since 1978, and her cousin Holyk to Pickton, said the ceremony was “very, very emotional, like a funeral but in a good way.”

Lorelei and a dozen other women, many of them among the at least 75 children left behind by missing or murdered mothers, are learning a choreographed dance to commemorate the missing and celebrate young women.

The AFN, which speaks for 800,000 aboriginal people in 633 communities, is working with the RCMP on a national protocol to address the fact that aboriginal people are disproportionately likely to become victims of violence.

Paulson said he supports a new national system to track “missing First Nations girls, women and men” through CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre. He emphasized one of his first priorities as Canada’s top cop is to address the missing women issue.

Paulson said he “supports the work of the (Oppal Missing Women Commission of) Inquiry” and “will have much more to say when the inquiry makes its recommendations.”

In the meantime, said Paulson, he will work with the AFN and other aboriginal groups to liaise with appointed RCMP contacts in every province.

National AFN Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo decried “the critical situation of violence, disappearance and murder of countless First Nations women and girls.”

The Native Women’s Association estimates about 600 aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada in the last 20 years, Atleo noted.

Atleo said that while he supports the work of the Oppal inquiry, its increasingly police-dominated hearings “show why we need a Royal Commission, a national inquiry into violence against aboriginal children, women and men, that is aboriginal-led or receives input from First Nations.”

The national justice forum has pledged to drawn up “a national action plan to end violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada” and is developing a national missing kids and child protection strategy as well.




Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016