Colleen Geddes, Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council project coordinator, poses for a photo along the Yukon River in Whitehorse on Jan. 26, 2021. Geddes spoke to the News about how about a monument that is being planned along the river to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit+ people (MMIWG2S+). (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Colleen Geddes, Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council project coordinator, poses for a photo along the Yukon River in Whitehorse on Jan. 26, 2021. Geddes spoke to the News about how about a monument that is being planned along the river to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit+ people (MMIWG2S+). (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

‘There’s a place they can go to be with them’: MMIWG2s+ memorial planned for Whitehorse

The Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council is accepting proposals for a monument erected this summer

The Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council is accepting artist’s proposals for a monument commemorating missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit+ people (MMIWG2S+).

“This is a hugely emotional process, this process is quite moving for families and it’s quite powerful,” said Colleen Geddes, project coordinator.

The memorial project, dubbed “Finding Peace,” is funded by the federal department of Women and Gender Equality Canada.

The memorial’s budget is $42,000 and will be located on the riverfront in Whitehorse. It’s tentatively slated for completion this July. The deadline for proposals is Jan. 31, and a contract will be awarded to the selected artist on Feb. 28.

According to Geddes, the process of selecting a monument proposal will centre around the families of MMIWG2S+.

A three-year consultation tour began in 2019 and is a branch of the Aboriginal Women’s Council’s MMIWG2S+ Outreach Program.

Geddes and co-coordinator Sarah Stuecker have already been in touch with families to gather input about best honouring, recognizing and remembering the territory’s missing and murdered.

Once all of the project proposals have been submitted, Geddes and Stuecker will return to the families for further consultation about selecting a project.

“We’re going to be doing a package up with visuals of the concepts that the artists present and we’ll be reaching out to families, going to some communities and getting families to look at the concepts,” Geddes said, adding that consultation will be done respectfully with pandemic safety protocols in place.

The basis of the monument project will be “for the families and with the families,” she explained. There are about 60 families in the Yukon and northern B.C. who have been affected by MMIWG2S+.

“Because it’s a memorial for their loved ones that were murdered, they are the key part of it. This is to help them move through life and have some remembrance of their loved ones,” Geddes said.

“That’s why it’s so important to connect with them and reach out and have their input.”

The original plan for the project was to host family gatherings this spring in preparation, but COVID-19 forced the organizers to pivot plans and do more consultation by distance.

The coordinators were still able to do some community touring over the summer, Geddes said.

“For many families, when I spoke to them, there’s different things they want to remember their loved ones by, and one of them is to always remember they’re there, in their hearts, and there’s a place they can go to be with them.”

The impact of MMIWG2S+ on Yukon and northern B.C. families can’t be understated, Geddes said. Geddes is a Teslin Tlingit citizen and former coordinator of the Jackson Lake healing camp. She is also a long-time social and justice worker.

“I’ve worked with many families over the years in my previous careers, and I know it’s very hard when women just disappear,” Geddes said.

“This is a national thing that’s had a huge impact in the Yukon and northern B.C., and there’s lots of grieving families who just want something so that it doesn’t disappear and is forgotten.

“There are families who are going to struggle for many years, so (the memorial) is just a place to sit, and be, and remember, and it could be a really powerful thing.”

Geddes noted that she doesn’t want to speak for the families affected by MMIWG2S+, as each person will find different value in the memorial.

Once a monument proposal is selected, there will be opportunity for the artist to work with families throughout the artistic process.

The monument’s completion will be marked with a private ceremony for those families to attend, followed by a public unveiling.

The memorial project is one facet of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council’s Outreach Prevention and Healing programming. The council’s Outreach Program hosts multi-day support circles and aftercare circles for MMIWG2S+ families and community members. There are also on-the-land healing camps conducted over 10 days each year.

The council also hosts an annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil. Last year, 42 red dresses were hung from trees along Second Avenue and Robert Service Way to commemorate the 41 missing and murdered Yukon women. A 42nd red dress was hung to symbolize the next vulnerable target.

The council additionally hosts Joyce Smarch and Maisie Smith as an elder and counsellor in-residence, respectively. They are available to provide support and traditional knowledge to Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse peoples.

Council members were also part of the Yukon Advisory Committee to implement a strategy on MMIWG2S+. A first draft of that strategy was released in December.

The Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council was founded in Whitehorse in 1974.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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