It has been almost ten years since I first heard about the Stolen Sisters and started to get involved. My first time advocating for the Stolen Sisters was sitting at a table by myself in the University of Lethbridge atrium during one of the Native Awareness Week events in 2003. I printed off the petition and information and collected signatures from students and staff. A year or so later I was invited to the Lethbridge Public Library to be a part of a panel discussion for the film about one of our missing sisters called ‘Finding Dawn’. I remember saying that if Aboriginal women were to be protected and acknowledged as having human rights then we would also have to acknowledge treaty rights, which include the rights to our land and resources, something I believe stands in the way of treating Indigenous peoples everywhere as human beings.
A few years later, wanting to learn more about my family history, I asked my mother what happened to my kokum (my grandmother), her mother. She told me the story of my kokum Sarah Cardinal and how she had been hit by a drunk driver and her body thrown into the lake, she was later found frozen. This happened over fifty years ago and is still an unsolved murder case.
In 2006 my youngest sister Julie Lamouche went missing from our home in Lethbridge, Alberta for about one month. She was with an abusive and controlling boyfriend who would take her different places without telling her or anyone else where they were going. Thanks to the guidance of a medicine man in Saskatchewan and my auntie’s spiritual gifts she was found near Edmonton, Alberta. That fall I attended the first annual Lethbridge Sisters in Spirit Candlelight Vigil.
These two stories tell the worst case and best case scenarios for Aboriginal women who go missing in Canada. For my kokum, as an unsolved murder case I believe that the police have not done enough to bring justice to her murderer(s). In my sister’s case, again, the police actually did very little to help find her. It was my parents and family who searched for her. It was because of the spiritual help that we knew where to look for her in the first place.
In June and July 2012 I began rehearsals and filming of ‘When it Rains’ which forced me to re-live the anger, hurt, worry and frustration from my kokum and sister’s story. This allowed me to re-evaluate the situation of the Stolen Sisters campaign, Aboriginal women, my community, family and myself. For the first scene I did a traditional hoop dance in a traditional Cree dress as I thought of my mother and how her actions and words embody so much of what our traditional roles as women in Cree culture is all about. How spiritual connectedness and prayer is such a major part of her life and how I aim to be as peaceful and grounded as she is. The second scene was the hip hop choreography which represented the pressures of mainstream society on Aboriginal women, such as glass ceilings, systemic racism, oppression and stereotypes. Here I thought of the injustice of my kokum and my sister and their experiences. This helped me to tap into the anger and frustration surrounding the issues faced by Aboriginal women. The third scene was the rain which washed away the negative (represented by statistics written on my arm and hand) and symbolized healing. This was followed by the ‘fusion’ look which combined hip hop and hoop dance styles together. This represented the ability for Aboriginal women to live in both contemporary and traditional worlds and maintain healthy and balanced lifestyles. I was not only empowered by the women in my family and other women around me (such as Cara and Rulan) but also by being able to spread awareness, understanding and inspiration to others as well. In the final scene I set forth my intention for the future, my own and future generations, to move forward on the path towards healing and well being.
In August 2012 while in Vancouver I was able to attend a gathering on the Downtown Eastside one of the main areas of focus for the Stolen Sisters and Sisters in Spirit. Here I witnessed one of the largest gatherings I have attended for the cause. I witnessed group choreography by the Butterflies in Spirit. A group of 12 Aboriginal women in Vancouver who create dance performances dedicated to, “...raising awareness about violence against aboriginal women, remembering and honoring missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls across Canada, promoting positive role models, aiming to provide advocacy and support services for the families of missing women” (Butterflies in Spirit). They performed a powerful piece that honored the missing and murdered Aboriginal women using both traditional and contemporary song, dance and imagery.
On October 4, 2012 my sister Maria and I volunteered for the Sisters in Spirit Candlelight Vigil in Lethbridge, Alberta to honor our kokum Sarah and all the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. After all these years, all that I have learnt and all that my family has gone through it was a very emotional day for me. I found myself smudging by noon that day because of the intense emotions I was feeling... wishing I could have met my kokum, thankful my sister was found safe, all the stories and statistics, how awe inspiring the Aboriginal women in my life are and how little recognition they get. It was a chilly evening and as I danced I began to lose feeling in my fingers ‘how am I going to do this?’ I thought; which was immediately followed by a thought of my kokum Sarah and her frozen body. I thought, ‘I’m doing this for her’.
I was thankful to have my spirituality as recourse for the intensity of the day. My prayers, hopes, dreams and perseverance serves as a silver lining to the oppression of Aboriginal women, and I believe that our ancestors would want us to always look for that silver lining. My mother, knowing how it was to grow up without a mother of her own, did everything she could and more to provide us with a safe, happy and healthy environment to grow. My sister, now a mother of a beautiful toddler boy is in college and a life coach, promoting healthy lifestyles.
We are all moving forward together... towards healing and well being.
Kisaageetin... You are loved by me.
imagineNATIVE's Stolen Sisters Digital Initiative
Cara Mumford’s blog post on the making of ‘When it Rains’
Amnesty International- Stolen Sisters
Native Women’s Association of Canada- Sisters In Spirit
Photos by Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works Studio