Donna Soles, treasurer with the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre and organizer of the Sisters In Spirit vigil, spoke to the 50 or so people gathered to commemorate Aboriginal women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing.
“When we first started this in 2006 there were only 11 cities doing this,” Soles said, referring to the national Sisters In Spirit organization.
“Right now there’s a hundred and 110 vigils going on as we speak,” Soles said.
The Sisters in Spirit Campaign was launched in March 2004 by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) to raise public awareness about violence against Aboriginal women in Canada.
According to the second edition of Voices of Our Sisters In Spirit, publicized by the NWAC in March 2009, there were at that time 520 cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women and girls in the country since around 1970.
More than half (53 per cent) of the murders occurred since 2009. Nearly half (43 per cent) of the cases of those missing occurred since 2000.
Of that number, 59 cases happened in Saskatchewan, according to that same report.
The largest recorded number of cases was 137, which includes those lost on the Highway of Tears (Highway 16) and in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver.
Fifty two per cent of those who have gone missing or been murdered are youth under the age of 30. Out of that, 14 per cent were 18 or younger.
Those under the age of 18 are a particularly vulnerable group, said Shirley Semkiw, who was also in attendance of the vigil. She is the executive director of Child Find Saskatchewan.
“Every year, there’s about 3,000 missing children, and of those, 75 per cent are run-aways,” said.
About 80 per cent of those children are found.
“The majority of them are 12 to 14 year-olds, so it is a very risky endeavour for someone of that age to go run away, cause when people run away they have no money, they’re easily targeted as victims, they end up in situations that they’re not at all prepared for,“ Semkiw said.
Years can pass without a lost loved one being found. While the vigil was specifically for women and girls, Soles acknowledged that this community has also lost many men and boys.
Marvin Ernst came out to the vigil to commemorate the loss of a 13-year-old boy who went missing 40 years ago.
“A family friend went missing almost 40 years ago. And he hasn’t been found yet,” Ernst said.
“A memory to the family of that missing boy. The parents are gone now, but they weren’t able to find that missing boy.”