Vancouver vigil remembers missing and murdered aboriginal women

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Lorelei Williams believes people are increasingly “getting the message” about the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women across the country.

The young woman’s family has been particularly affected by violence. The DNA of her cousin, Tanya Holyk, was found on Robert Pickton’s farm, while her aunt, Belinda Williams, has been missing since 1977. Two other family members have also survived violent attacks.

“It’s a huge issue, especially with my family,” she told the Straight.

But Williams believes much remains to be done in spreading the message outside the aboriginal community.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t even realize that this is a huge issue,” she said. “When I actually raise awareness to non-aboriginals, they’re shocked.”

Williams spoke at a candelight vigil that she helped to organize in Crab Park near Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Thursday (October 4). The event was one of over 160 Sisters in Spirit vigils held in communities across the country to remember missing and murdered aboriginal women, and to increase public awareness of the issue. Local vigils were also held earlier in the day at Douglas College and Vancouver Community College.

According to information gathered by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, more than 580 aboriginal women and girls have gone missing or been murdered across the country.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, was among those holding candles at the Crab Park vigil Thursday evening. He also believes the issue has garnered more public attention since community members began organizing events like this one.

“I don’t think there’s any question that over the last several years, through the dedication and commitment of a variety of women’s groups that the profile of this issue has been raised to the point where it’s now the subject of the attention of the United Nations itself,” he said.

“The marches, the candlelight vigils, the political work, has brought the basis of support for this issue, but there’s a lot of work that remains to be done.”

“The tragic dimension of this issue is there is no one single serial killer out there,” added Phillip. “There’s a lot of sick, depraved men out there that continue to prey on vulnerable aboriginal women, and other women that live on the margins of society.”

Phillip said the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is now focusing its efforts on pushing for a royal commission of inquiry at the national level.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo also reiterated his call Thursday for a national public inquiry on the issue. In July of this year, Atleo declared October 4 a National Day of Remembrance for murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada.

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