By Jeff Pelletier
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The message was clear Friday when members of Ottawa’s Inuit community gathered to mark the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people:
The violence must end.
At least 60 people assembled at Annie Pootoogook Park in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood for an afternoon vigil to mark what is more commonly referred to as Red Dress Day.
The event was organized by Tungasuvvingat Inuit, and it featured political speakers, drumming and throat singing.
Mikka Komaksiutiksak, an organizer of TI’s Arsaniq safe space program for 2SLGBTQIA+ Inuit in Ottawa, echoed what MPs said this week, calling violence against Indigenous women and girls an epidemic that needs to be stopped.
“We come here to honour those people in our communities that have been missing or have been murdered, we hold space for their families to grieve today and we grieve with them,” Komaksiutiksak said.
“We also have to question: what message does this epidemic send to Indigenous children and youth?”
The location and timing of the vigil were significant to Inuit in Ottawa.
The park in Sandy Hill was named for Pootoogook, a renowned artist who was found dead in the Rideau River in 2016.
Last year, the Inuit community of Ottawa experienced two major tragedies: in September, Sanirajak college student Savanna Pikuyak was identified as the victim of a homicide, and in October police identified the remains of Mary Papatsie, who had been missing for five years.
“I think the city did a beautiful thing to acknowledge the importance of Annie Pootoogook, and how important her life was to us, and really just to acknowledge the dangers that we experience when we’re in urban centres such as the city,” Nunavut MP Lori Idlout said at the vigil.
Idlout’s fellow New Democrat MP Leah Gazan led a call in Parliament this week to declare a MMIWG2S national emergency.
Idlout said she wants to see a red-dress alert system implemented, similar to Amber Alerts.
“I really do hope that our cities, provinces and territories and the federal government work together to make sure that we do institute a nationwide red-dress alert system,” Idlout said.
“In a red-dress alert, we’d have more chances to save Indigenous women’s, girls’ or two-spirit people’s lives.”
Some people in attendance shed tears and shared long hugs.
For the most part, there was a sense of joy and hope among the crowd, which was favoured with warm, sunny weather after nearly a week of clouds and rain.
Reepa Evic-Carleton, an elder from Pangnirtung who lives in the Ottawa area, lit a qulliq and led the gathering in prayer.
She shared a message of hope, that talking about this difficult issue raises awareness and can bring positive change.
“Violence being ended: that’s what we want to see,” Evic-Carleton said.
“We want to see healthy people, we want to see people that are living well, not hurting each other.”
Jeff Pelletier/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/NUNATSIQ NEWS/ LJI is a federally funded program.