OKIB hangs red dresses as part of missing, murdered women vigil

Event near Kelowna Tuesday put the spotlight on the issue of missing aboriginal women and girls

Carol Chalifoux takes part in the Sisters in Spirit vigil on the Okanagan Indian Reserve Tuesday.

Statistics often strip Canada’s murdered and missing aboriginal women of their identities.

An RCMP report indicates there have been about 1,200 women and girls go missing or killed nationally over 30 years, and while the figure may actually be higher, advocates insist the focus must be on the loss of individual lives.

“These women were daughters, mothers and aunts,” said Coola Louis, an Okanagan Indian Band councillor during the Sisters in Spirit vigil Tuesday.

“These women had places in our hearts. They were beautiful women capable of doing beautiful things.”

The Sisters in Spirit National Day of Vigils was part of the See Me, Hear Me, Remember Me Red Dress campaign, with red dresses symbolizing the victims of violence.

“There is greater strength in unity and we’re coming together,” said Glen Louis, one of the organizers.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada says that between 2000 and 2008, aboriginal women and girls represented 10 per cent of all female homicides in Canada but they only make up three per cent of the country’s female population.

“It’s going to take all of us collectively to address this national shame,” said Coola Louis.

For Coun. Allan Louis, action must occur among the younger generations.

“We need to educate our girls and boys about the seriousness of these crimes to our sisters,” he said.

For Joan Vedan, she continues to struggle with the pain caused by her mother’s murder in Vancouver in 1988.

“I wish I could have told her how much I needed her,” said Vedan, who was 18 at the time.

“I hope the government will take care of this issue because it’s a crisis.”

As part of the vigil, red dresses were hung on a fence along Westside Road.

“It’s not just one day that we remember. We remember every day,” said Glenda Louis.