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Candlelight vigil held in Eskasoni

Annie Gibbet, centre, walks with about 50 people during the Sisters in Spirit candlelight vigil in Eskasoni on Saturday. The vigil was part of a two-day healing gathering for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, men and boys, and it was the only event open to the public. Hosted by the Nova Scotia Native Women Association Eskasoni chapter, drumming led the walk, which was originally going to take place at Goat Island but was moved to the Allison Bernard Memorial High School gymnasium because of rain.
Annie Gibbet, centre, walks with about 50 people during the Sisters in Spirit candlelight vigil in Eskasoni on Saturday. The vigil was part of a two-day healing gathering for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, men and boys, and it was the only event open to the public. Hosted by the Nova Scotia Native Women Association Eskasoni chapter, drumming led the walk, which was originally going to take place at Goat Island but was moved to the Allison Bernard Memorial High School gymnasium because of rain. - Nikki Sullivan

Part of two-day healing gathering

ESKASONI, N.S. —

The Allison Bernard Memorial High School gymnasium was quiet as organizers of the Sisters in Spirit candlelight vigil asked people to share the names of family members who have gone missing or been murdered.

Some of the names were familiar, like Cassidy Bernard, Jane Paul and Loretta Saunders, because their cases were covered in multiple media reports and shared many times on social media platforms.

Others were names never heard before. Not even recognized by neighbours in their Mi'kmaq communities, many of these names were of men and boys.

The vigil, originally planned for Goat Island but moved to the high school because of rain, was part of a two-day healing gathering for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and the only public event. More than 50 people attended, including Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny.

"A lot of the families that are here today, they went through a lot of stress, a lot of emotion suffering. This is a day about healing and we have many band resources here helping," he said before the vigil started. "I'm just here as support. To show my support to the families and to show them they can use me as their voice, to address their concerns."

A group of people wait for the start of the Sisters in Spirit candlelight vigil in Eskasoni on Saturday. Many of the 50 people in attendance were family members of Indigenous women, girls, men and boys who have been murdered or have gone missing.
A group of people wait for the start of the Sisters in Spirit candlelight vigil in Eskasoni on Saturday. Many of the 50 people in attendance were family members of Indigenous women, girls, men and boys who have been murdered or have gone missing.

For family members of missing and murdered people, like Georgina Doucette, who is also a residential school survivor, events like the healing gathering help deal with the pain of the past.

"It's not easy to shake the past, but when I go to gatherings like this, where I get to speak about what happened to me.... No matter how embarrassing it is for me to say it, I always feel better," said Doucette, who had two aunts and two uncles go missing 80 years ago when they went to Big Pond to sell baskets they made.

Doucette said she turned to alcohol when she was younger to deal with the trauma of mental, physical and sexual abuse she suffered while at Shubenacadie Residential School where she was sent when she was eight. After dedicating herself to her Mi'kmaq traditional culture and healing gatherings, she hasn't needed alcohol for the past 33 years.

"I enjoy healing gatherings. I think it's the only way we're going to make it."

Doucette said each time she speaks about her experiences, she feels as if a bit more of her is healed from her past traumas.

"I'm taking back my life and I'm taking back my culture," the elder from Eskasoni First Nation said, then smiled. "I'm healing my inner child. That's how I look at it."

Annie Gibbet, left, and Karen Bernard speak to family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, men and boys after a journaling workshop at Allison Bernard Memorial High School on Saturday. Behind them is a photo of Terrilynn Poulette, who went missing in 2005 when she was 17. The workshop was part of the two-day healing gathering held at the school.
Annie Gibbet, left, and Karen Bernard speak to family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, men and boys after a journaling workshop at Allison Bernard Memorial High School on Saturday. Behind them is a photo of Terrilynn Poulette, who went missing in 2005 when she was 17. The workshop was part of the two-day healing gathering held at the school.

The two-day healing gathering included workshops in journaling, drum making and choker making. The Eskasoni Women's Drum Group performed throughout the weekend and smudging ceremonies were held at the start of each day.

Hosted by the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association Eskasoni chapter, many community members helped run the event and organizers Annie Gibbet and Karen Bernard both said the healing gathering was a success.

"Our goal is to help our families who are struggling and give them some coping skills that help them move along in life. To empower them a little bit using their culture," said Bernard, who is the sexual violence prevention co-ordinator for the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association.

"When we have a group of people who have been through trauma like this, and we look around the room and we don't see tears, we don't see anger, we don't see hurt, we can see it is helping."

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