BY JOY STRUTHERS
Somber voices filled The Boathouse as Guelph residents gathered for a vigil in memory of Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls Oct. 4. This Sisters in Spirit vigil was one of many held across Canada on this day.
A small group of local drummers stood behind the building by the river and participated in a smudging ceremony to cleanse and bless.
Organizers Kelly Grace and Jessica St. Peter from Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis were proud to talk about this national issue at the fourth annual event.
“The message we are trying to portray is that there are so many missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls across Canada we have to speak up. This can’t be happening anymore,” said Grace.
The women gave emotional speeches and shared videos about aboriginal women and the challenges they face.
A drum circle was led by Lois MacDonald, formerly of Conestoga College’s Aboriginal Services, who is from the Missanabie Cree First Nation. The circle sang and drummed a welcome song and then shared a blessing for the missing and fallen sisters. Women and men, young and old joined them.
Local resident Dana Nuttley spoke about his ex-wife Denise Bourdeau, who was murdered before her 40th birthday. She left behind a large family to mourn her, including three children, Sean, Jessica and Brandon.
“How do you tell your child that his mother has been missing for three weeks,” he said about his eldest son Sean. “All I could do was be there for support, and help pick up the pieces. And the pieces fell.”
Bourdeau was found along the banks of the Grand River in Kitchener on April 17, 2007, having been missing since Dec. 31, 2006. Her death went unpunished until her abusive boyfriend was found guilty of second-degree murder last year.
David Thomas pleaded not guilty, but jurors were convinced he killed his girlfriend and dumped her body after drinking and dancing with her in a bar.
Bourdeau’s family finally got their closure when Thomas received an automatic life sentence, but Nuttley’s son Sean still struggles every day.
“My son fell into a deep depression,” said Nuttley. “Unwilling to talk about it or seek help he found solace in alcohol, leading to numerous arrests and many nights in jail … One senseless act of violence, and the ripples are immeasurable.”
The cycle of depression and addiction is common amongst trauma survivors.
“This is Sean’s story,” said Nuttley. “One of the thousands of survivors of the missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada.”
Nuttley’s partner Stacey Godin and daughter Rylea accompanied him to the vigil and Rylea shared a native American prayer she had connected with.
I give you this one thought to keep
I am with you still – I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning’s hush
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone –
I am with you still – in each new dawn. – Anonymous
Everyone left the building and walked across the bridge. Candles were lit and carried and the circle of people turned to face the four directions, in blessing and prayer for the sisters in spirit.