A monument has been installed along the Whitehorse waterfront near Rotary Park, honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals (MMIWG).
The statue featuring an Indigenous women beating a drum was unveiled at a Sept. 16 private ceremony for families before a larger public event was held Sept. 17.
“They are loved and they will be loved forever,” Christine Genier, who emceed the public ceremony, told a crowd of about 100 gathered for the event.
Red dresses and signs lined the Millennium Trail from Rotary Park to the statue just past the area behind the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
The public ceremony began with a drummer’s walk along the trail featuring Sean Smith and Sarah Smith.
Ta’an Kwäch’än Council elder Betsy Jackson then led an opening prayer before an extensive list of speakers addressed the crowd, each highlighting the importance of the piece and how it came about.
As the crowd learned, the monument by Dawson artist Halin de Repentigny was created through a collaboration between the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle, the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, Kwanlin Dün First Nation, the Teslin Tlingit Council, the City of Whitehorse, the Yukon government and families of MMIWG.
Throughout the ceremony, speakers stressed the involvement of families throughout the process.
As noted in the commemoration ceremony program: “This monument represents a journey of families coming together, helping to shape its final look and making this memorial ‘for the families, by the families’.”
|The drummers walk – featuring Sean Smith and Sarah Smith – to the commemoration ceremony for Finding Peace monument erected along the waterfront as a memorial for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirited Plus in Yukon and northern B.C. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)|
Efforts to create the monument have been underway for two years and come from the Yukon strategy on MMIWG.
“It’s been a long journey,” Jeanie McLean, the territory’s minister responsible for the women’s directorate, said, noting it as Action 1.2 in the plan.
She also stated her agreement with Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill that this is a first step towards reconciliation.
“This helps us heal,” Bill said, reflecting on it as a difficult, but necessary journey.
Bill also pointed to the role monuments have in society.
“You can tell a lot about a culture and a place by looking at its monuments,” she said. “Who is chosen for commemoration? Who is selected to stay in our collective memory? In many cases we see men; mostly white, mostly settlers.
“I am heartened to see this changing, to no longer stay out of sight and out of mind. Our people deserve this recognition.”
Ta’an Kwäch’än Council Chief Kristina Kane called the monument a small, but important step that can serve as a tool to hold each other up.
“Let’s continue to come together and address this issue head-on,” she said.
Other speakers included Teslin Tlingit Council deputy chief Alex Oakley, Doris Anderson of the Assembly of First Nations women’s council, Yukon Commissioner Angélique Bernard, Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, as well as Adeline Webber and Claudia Riveros who served on the planning committee.
Each recognized the families and the work that went into the monument as a way to honour MMIWG, continue to raise awareness and serve as a place for families and the public to reflect and move towards reconciliation.
While artist Derepentigny had not planned to make a speech and stood towards the back of the crowd for much of the ceremony, he did eventually make his way to the podium to meet Webber and Riveros.
Keeping his speech short, he emphasized the monument is one that was created by everyone involved.
“We made this statue,” he said, noting it was an honour for him to be part of it and his hope it does indeed bring peace.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org