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Sisters in Spirit

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Last week on the blog we discussed Orange Shirt Day, which occurred this past week on September 30. Another important day of awareness follows closely behind on October 4: the Sisters in Spirit vigil events.

The University of Alberta Indigenous Law Students Association will be hosting a Sisters in Spirit vigil on the second floor of the Law Centre October 4, 2023 at 1 pm.

Native Women’s Association of Canada

Sisters in Spirit was a research, education and policy initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) that began in 2005. The initiative was funded by the federal government with the mission of documenting murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, going back as far as the 1970’s.[1] It ran until 2010, when the federal government chose not to allocate further funding to the project, although eventually a three-year follow-up project was funded called Evidence to Action.[2] Throughout the five years the initiative ran, NWAC gathered information about the disappearance or death of 582 Indigenous women and girls across Canada.[3] The project’s Report to Families and Communities told the life stories of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.[4] These stories were told in a culturally-appropriate way, focusing on the life cycle of the story’s subject, as well as exploring the experiences of family members as they related to the justice system, media and victim services.[5] This method sought to uncover root causes, circumstances and trends to urge policy change to increase personal safety and security of all Indigenous women and girls in Canada.[6]

NWAC continues to support Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals through initiatives like Safe Passage, which continues to track MMIWG2S+ cases, monitors ongoing safety concerns, provides safety resources and education and commemorates and honours the individuals that have been stolen from their communities.[7] Safe Passage also includes a density-based map of 1300 reported cases as well as a map to report and track “unsafe experiences.”[8]

Sisters in Spirit Vigils

The first Sisters in Spirit Vigil was organized by NWAC and held on October 4, 2006.[9] Despite the program no longer being funded, Sisters in Spirit vigils continue to be on that date each year. The Government of Alberta officially recognizes Sisters in Spirit Day and will be partnering with local groups hosting vigils in four cities across the province.[10] Some of these vigils will also include peaceful marches.

A vigil has been organized by the University of Alberta Indigenous Law Students’ Association to be held in the Law Centre. Holding a vigil inside this building is particularly important as it serves to remind law students of the stories of the women who may be the victim or complainant in some of the cases they are exposed to throughout their legal education. Legal education often focuses primarily on the precedential value of a case, rather than the stories of the humans involved. By holding the vigil within the law school, it will serve as a reminder that these law cases are about a real event affecting not only the people involved, but their families and larger communities as well.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG

1. Robyn Sanderson Bourgeois, Warrior Women: Indigenous Women's Anti-Violence Engagement with the Canadian State (PhD Thesis, University of Toronto, 2014), online (pdf): <> [] at 4.

2. Ibid.

3. “Voices of Our Sisters in Spirit: A Report to Families and Communities” (March 2009), online (pdf): Native Women’s Association of Canada <> [] [NWAC Voices].

4. Ibid at 5.

5. Ibid at 3.

6. Ibid.

7. “Safe Passage” (2023), online:> [].

9. NWAC Voices, supra note 3 at 82.

10. “Sisters in Spirit Day” (2023), online: Alberta <> [].

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