When the people gather — a glimpse into the MMIWG2S movement

Those who consistently stand up to honour the lives of the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people do so in ceremony, not protest, they say.
Photo: Danielle Jack stands under the pines that line Nicola Lake, where she holds ceremony for the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit, in the interior of Syilx, Secwépemc and Nlaka'pamux territories. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

Those who wake up morning after morning to honour the lives of all of the Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit (MMIWG2S) people who have been murdered or gone missing, don’t do so in protest, but in ceremony.

I’ve spent the last year covering many events to honour loved ones who have been murdered or gone missing, showing up early and sticking around late to events that are often wrongly framed by media.

Dedicating my time with the warriors who honour the lives and lands stolen, sitting around kitchen tables, sharing in the endless laughs and also in the tears, I’ve watched families mourn and heard stories of those they yearn for.

These relationships, kinships, and experiences have informed my coverage, as I understand that Indigenous Peoples often come together, not in protest, but in protection of life.

It is an act of great love, to remember, to speak out against systems that threaten Indigenous Peoples well-being, and it is often a responsibility of those tuned in to their ancient laws. 

At the last few events I attended, it’s the voices behind the scenes that have amplified this message — that when people gather, they do so from great love.

Big belly laughter

During a live stream of an event on April 8, following the trial proceedings of a man convicted with several violent acts against women, Curtis Sagmoen, you can hear big belly laughter in the background.

“It’s so beautiful to hear Indigenous women laughing,” someone commented on the Facebook livestream. Between belly laughs, voices came together in song to honour the lives of those taken too soon, and the families who are struggling for answers and justice.

During a rally in Merritt B.C., on April 10, powwow dancers took their regalia out, to dance for the people, to share in their medicine, showing strength, beauty and pride.

“I needed to see you dance,” one participant told the dancers.

“I missed drumming with my people,” said another, while a local male leader told the men in the crowd, “We need you here, too,” as hail began to pour down.

When the weather stiffened, Elders didn’t move, and others followed suit, demonstrating a deep commitment to the work taking place.

“To be there ‘in protest’ is to be there for the government to see us when it was that system that was built for us to remain invisible,” Skmxist from Inkumpulux (so-called Vernon B.C.), tells IndigiNews.

“We arrive in spite of them, to be the voices of the women, and that can only be done in ceremony,” she says.

Like some other warriors, Skmxist chooses to use her traditional and ceremonial names, rather than her English name, so the Ancestors and Spirits of the ceremony will be able to recognize her. 

Women show up at the farm where Curtis Sagmoen lives on Salmon River Road, near Enderby B.C., to sing for the spirits of the MMIWG2S in the area, and for Traci Genereux, whose body was found on the farm in 2017. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

What is the difference between ceremony and protesting?

When people come together, raising awareness about ongoing issues, like the genocide of Indigenous women, girls, Two Spirit and gender fluid people, some will call it ‘protest.’ But these gatherings aren’t simply about complaining or objecting. They are  Indigenous laws and moral responsibilities in action, people leaning into their natural inclination towards the protection of life.

The intention of coming together is “ceremonial,” says Danielle Jack, who identifies as a survivor in solidarity. She is from Nlaka’pumux and lives in so-called Merritt, B.C.

“Anything our ancestors couldn’t do that we are doing is purely ceremonial,” she says. “I am coming for everything we’ve been denied.”

MMIWG2S
Danielle Jack, amongst the pines that line Nicola Lake on Nlaka’pumux and Syilx territory with her face painted to honour the MMIWG2S. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

Leo Isaac is a Two Spirit man from so-called Vernon, B.C. who is a regular part of the collective effort.

“I feel it’s so important to call our sisters home in ceremony, as it also begins a healing process for all the families, because there is a sense of a larger family,” says Isaac in a phone interview. 

“A community of support and love for those who have lost ones out there, letting them know that they are not facing this alone.”

MMIWG2S
Leo Isaac speaks at a rally outside  the Vernon Law Courts where Curtis Sagmoen was scheduled to appear in Vernon, B.C. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

Isaac says men need to show up in this movement, and he encourages them to do so.

“Men need to stand with all of you,” he writes in a Facebook message.

“It is not only on women to raise awareness and call for justice in these cases. Our Indigenous men need to rise up and do better, aspire for greatness and call out other men when we see them not honouring our sacred women in any way. 

“Our sisters’ spirits deserve to be laid to rest peacefully.”

At the April 8 rally, Skmxist takes out her drum and warms it before honouring the MMIWG2S. 

When the drums vibrate through the air, “it’s to honour them and their spirits and all of the women, girls and Two Spirit and their families impacted by the ongoing crisis,” she says. 

“It’s to wake up the Spirits of the land to help us bring the women home,” she says. 

Jody Leon — warrior aunty, and family and culture MMIWG2S advocate — says it’s a calling to do this work, and a responsibility she has always, and will always, uphold. 

“Spiritually, when we are asked to help, if we can, we do because that’s part of our collective responsibility,” she tells IndigiNews.

“Also because our people understand the colonization and the impact on our sacred sisters and non-Indigenous women living on our homelands.”

Jack, Leon, Isaac, and Skmxist say they will continue to come together collectively to use their voices, drums, songs, medicines and strength to bring these women, girls and Two Spirit people home.

“The warpaint on my face is permanent because the colours don’t run when I cry anymore. I am dedicated to raising awareness for the rest of my life,” says Jack.