Approximately 350 family members of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls joined together for a three-day gathering of healing and memoriam at the Prince George Civic Centre.
Families were welcomed by Chief Dominic Frederick onto the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation who co-hosted the gathering with the provincial government, the BC Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Métis Nation BC, the Minister’s Advisory Council on Aboriginal Women, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and Carrier Sekani Family Services.
Sessions offered families a safe environment to share their experiences, including discussions on trauma and recovery led by renowned speaker and author Dr Gabor Maté and a series of sharing circles for youth, women and men where participants shared their stories, perspectives and offered support to one another. Cultural and health support workers were present to support family members as needed.
Attendees participated in the Lheidli T’enneh custom of ‘Gathering of the Rocks’ by laying stones from their home communities and contributed patches that are being sewn into a quilt to honour their lost loved ones.
The provincial government will share family members’ feedback at the second National Roundtable on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls slated for later this year in Winnipeg.
Holding a Family Gathering was a commitment made by Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad to B.C. families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women at the inaugural National Roundtable in 2015.
John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation –
“I have the greatest respect for all the family members who made the journey to this gathering and those who have been unable to attend. I hope that people have found some measure of comfort and healing in such a supportive environment.
“Many of the stories have been shared in private, but their legacy will inform how we move forward in public to address this emotional issue.”
Suzanne Anton, Attorney General and Minister of Justice –
“Protecting vulnerable women wherever they are is a duty that falls to all of us, and we are working hard to make sure no more families have to experience the grief of losing a loved one as the result of violent acts. It was a privilege to be invited to attend this important gathering.”
Mike Morris, Minister of Public Safety & Solicitor General –
“The family gathering was an important experience for families but also a valuable experience for us in government. We'll be taking what we heard from family members who have suffered more than enough to enrich our collective response to violence against Aboriginal women and girls.”
Chief Dominic Frederick, Lheidli T’enneh First Nation –
“The people of Lheidli T’enneh are honoured to provide a place on our territory for families from across B.C. and Canada who are mourning the loss of their loved ones. Grief and mourning are great burdens, but I hope that by coming together and supporting each other, we can provide some measure of healing and a way forward into a future where no other families need to suffer such loss.”
Tribal Chief Terry Teegee, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council –
“It has been an honour to be present at this gathering. It is my hope is that by coming together and sharing their stories and their grief, the families of B.C.’s murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls have found strength in each other and know that their voices have been and will continue to be heard and they will find some semblance of justice and reconciliation.”
BC Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson, BC Assembly of First Nations –
"As difficult as these forums can be, now is the time for action. Our families have felt pain and loss for far too long. The poverty of our people is a national crisis and is a reality that has existed for far too long.
“Social determinants should be front and centre when addressing this important issue. We must continue to work together to close the gaps to ensure our families are safe and secure and we end the violence that Indigenous women and girls continue to experience in Canada.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs –
“We are greatly honoured and humbled to participate in this gathering and wish to extend our ongoing support to the family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“We must work together and do everything in our power to address and expose all dimensions of this tragic crisis and facilitate healing.”
Cheryl Casimer, First Nations Summit political executive –
“We are pleased to be here to show our support for the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Gatherings such as this are not only a critical part of the healing process, but are also a valuable opportunity for the families to discuss and identify a path forward to end systemic violence against Indigenous women and girls.
“We must continue to stand together to not only support these families, but to assist in ensuring there is a national light on this important Canadian societal issue.”
Bruce Dumont, Métis Nation BC –
“Métis Nation British Columbia was very honoured to be a part of this important gathering and we indeed sincerely hope that it will help the families to heal and better cope with the loss of their loved ones.
“This gathering has been very moving and emotional for everyone, and we hope that our presence here has helped to bring comfort to each of the families knowing that they are in our prayers and thoughts.”
Mary Teegee, Carrier Sekani Family Services –
“As the host agency for the Highway of Tears Initiative, we are pleased that the families had opportunity to meet together as part of their healing journey. It is so important to heed the voices of the families in determining the way forward in dealing with the complexities associated with the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.
“The national pre-inquiry sessions held in Prince George and Vancouver in January was another opportunity for families to share their stories and provide input into the composition of the national inquiry.
“These two events are good examples of ensuring proper consultation occurs with the families, support people and advocates as they are the voices of those we lost”
Chasity A Davis, Chair, Minister’s Advisory Council on Aboriginal Women –
“Healing is a journey of many small steps. This gathering has provided another step for the families. It has provided a place to share their stories and draw strength from each other and I commend the courage of all who attended for taking this journey together.”