The monument to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls outside the NWT legislature building. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
Nestled in a quiet spot among trees outside the Northwest Territories’ legislature, a new monument now honours Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Dozens of people gathered at the Yellowknife building on Wednesday – the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people – to witness the monument’s unveiling.
“Today is a day to honour our fallen sisters, to reflect on the injustices experienced by Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people, and to share in our healing journeys together,” Speaker Frederick Blake Jr told the crowd.
Blake said the area where the monument is located, which features a fire pit and benches, will serve as a “sacred place” for families to sit and reflect.
He called the monument “a reminder to the wider public that we are working towards reconciliation.”
The monument features a red parka with a sunburst hood, decorated with hearts and a Delta braid, two feathers forming an infinity symbol, a Dene drum and a Qulliq. The elements represent First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups in the NWT.
The monument was designed by Inuvialuk artist Myrna Pokiak, with input from the Native Women’s Association of the NWT and Indigenous governments across the territory. Metal manufacturing was done in collaboration with Paul Bros Nextreme Inc.
Pokiak said Wednesday was the first time she had seen everything put together. She said a drum was chosen as the foundation “as that beat in our heart is what keeps us going.”
“I’m very thankful – but hurt, at the same time, that this monument had to be created,” she said.
“I think the location chosen here is probably one of the most important places that it could be, knowing the amount of traffic that comes here, that can make a difference.”
Gerri Sharpe, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, also highlighted the location of the monument, saying lawmakers and policymakers need to be held accountable.
She said Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people from the North face risks when they have to travel or move south to access things like school and medical care. She said more needs to be done to support people to stay in the North.
“We’re all in this together,” she said. “This is not a Dene issue, an Inuk issue, a Métis issue. This is a Canada issue, and only Canada can solve this.”
Sharpe pointed to solutions supported by Pauktuutit, such as midwifery services and a program that engages men and boys in reducing violence against women and girls.
Grace Blake, president of the Native Women’s Association of the NWT, spoke about Frank Gruben, who has been missing for nearly five months, and the pain that families and communities feel when they lose a loved one.
“We have to value each other,” she said. “Each member of our society, our close-knit, bonded society in the North, is valued, regardless of who they are.”
“We all come from small communities,” she added. “Our hearts are linked to each other.”
Wednesday’s event featured the lighting of a Qulliq by Inuk Elder Rassi Nashalik, a feeding-the-fire ceremony, prayers, and musical performances by the Yellowknives Dene Drummers, William Greenland and the Mandeville family.