Indigenous people in Edmonton are responding to the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
A vigil on Jasper Avenue and 95th Street Saturday evening honoured the subject of the report: those who have died or gone missing due to violence against Indigenous and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.
The vigil, organized by the Stolen Sisters & Brothers Awareness Movement, echoed the report’s call for all Canadians to be part of the change. It comes after the long-awaited report was made public on Monday.
Organizer April Eve Wiberg said the inquiry has helped shine a light on the disproportionate amount of violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls. The inquiry determined they are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than any other demographic group in Canada.
“Hopefully people will start paying attention and understanding that this is a very serious issue,” she said. “This is a human rights crisis and we need to address it immediately.”
She said it’s crucial Canadians are aware of the 231 calls to justice listed in the report, which address areas of human rights, culture, health and wellness, security and justice.
“It’s so important that we take a stand together and take action together,” Eve Wiberg said.
“We need to know that as Indigenous people, we are going to be living in safer communities. And for the families that are seeking answers and justice for their missing and murdered loved ones, that they, too, will have that.”
Freda Ballantyne attended Saturday’s vigil in memory of her mother, who was murdered in 1996.
She said she wants to know how the Canadian government will fully acknowledge and extend its responsibilities to Indigenous communities.
The inquiry described the deaths of Indigenous and 2SLGBTQQIA people as a “Canadian genocide” — a hotly debated statement that Ballantyne supports.
“We need the reclamation before we can do a reconciliation,” said Ballantyne, a Sixties Scoop survivor. “The word ‘genocide’ isn’t a nice word, but we need the government to continually acknowledge what our people have gone through.”
Gina Degerness has gone through a lot. Her son, Lucas Degerness, went missing 12 years ago and has never been found. He went missing from Prince George, B.C., in June 2007, when was 14 years old.
While it wasn’t a major focus, Degerness said she wanted the national inquiry to include Indigenous boys and men. Now, she wants to see annual meetings across the country for families of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
“I think it’s hugely valuable for our families’ loved ones to have something like that, so that’s where I’m putting my focus, is trying to get that in every province and territory,” she said.