“As one heart we remember the women who have suffered at the hands of another.”
More than 50 people gathered somberly on Wednesday night to stand in solidarity with all women who have suffered violence, all women who are rising from it “and those who can stand no more.”
With these words, Jenny Carter, minister of the First United Church in Salmon Arm, led the gathering at the Salmon Arm campus of Okanagan College, one of hundreds of vigils held each Dec. 6, the anniversary of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre. Student Marc Lépine shot and killed fourteen women in his self-proclaimed fight against feminism.
Amanda Bailey said she was present because “I think it’s important to show support and encourage women to speak out and encourage men and women to be advocates for women.”
Desiree Roy was there “to support and stand with the community.”
Hosted by the Okanagan College Student Union in collaboration with Okanagan College Aboriginal Services and the SAFE Society, the people assembled were visibly moved by the heart-wrenching and sometimes chilling words of the speakers.
Edna Felix with the Splatsin First Nation welcomed the gathering and spoke of her dedication to attending the college vigil.
Thirty years ago, she said, her sister was found dead, her family left with the pain of never learning whether she had been murdered or died at her own hand. Her 19-year-old niece was killed in Surrey, leaving behind two babies.
“I believe in what this group does here,” she said. “Thank you all.”
Kailey Cannon, a mother of two, spoke of sexism – which, like racism, no one is born with, but learns. Sexism that sometimes causes her to say she’s “just” a caregiver.
“Violence is an extreme form of sexism,” she said. While not all men are predators, the problem is pervasive. “It’s not just a few bad apples.”
She spoke of the stringent rules boys and men must operate under. If she dresses her daughter in blue, no one bats an eye. However, a little boy in pink draws all kinds of comments. While that might be innocuous, what about when he gets older, cries about something and is told to “man up.”
“We need to raise our sons in a way they can be emotional and open, and that they can be kind, caring, compassionate individuals.”
Cannon urged the audience to be confident in raising a feminist son.
Related link: Enderby’s vigil honours Canada’s missing and murdered women
Michelle Eddy spoke of the abuse that began for her when she was 19 “and should have been embracing my freedom.”
Instead, she ended up with a husband who isolated her, confined her, subjected her to constant mental, physical and sexual abuse.
“How do we put ourselves back together when so many pieces are gone?”
However, she escaped him and now has a new life with a new husband, and the mental scars have faded with time.
“There are so many women who have their own story and this saddens me to the core.”
Related link: Time to stem the tide of missing women
To prevent violence against women, Eddy spoke of the importance of women sharing their stories, of parents building up their children, of supporting them. Of telling daughters they have their own voice, they are worthy of love, of telling sons to respect girls and women.
She concluded with a quote from Carl Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
George Dennis with the Splatsin First Nation said the subject of murdered and missing woman is emotional for him because, as a 34-year combat vet of the U.S. Army, he has been the logistics officer conducting some of the searches on the Highway of Tears.
Within his culture, he said, women are the leaders. He said part of his role is to protect and support women, a role he challenged other men to take on and train young men to do. Next year, he’d like to see so many people attend the vigil that it will be moved to a bigger venue.
Before leading participants outside for the candlelight vigil with the Women’s Warrior Song, Laureen Felix reflected on the difficulty victims of abuse have with being able to share their stories. She referred to friends who she’d known for 16 years as happy people, willing to do anything for anybody, expecting nothing in return.
“Five of those friends got raped at such a young age and they never spoke about it until we went to a healing workshop… And I never knew this, and one at a time, one of my friends stood up and they shared their story. And I was thinking, wow,” said Laureen.
“At the end of most of my friends’ stories, they spoke out and they said, ‘why, why did it happen to me? I didn’t do anything, I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was treated?’ And no one had an answer, and two of them walked out and then they said, ‘then why am I here, if I can’t get my answers to why this happened?’ And my other friend stood up and said, ‘because we can make a difference by sharing our story for others that can’t have a voice,’ like we are today. And it made my friends turn around and they sat back down and said, ‘Yeah, OK. If my journey can help others to be able to speak up and have the courage to do so, then I’ll stay.’ And I’m very proud of them.
“The moral of it is, you just never know who is a victim of violence.”