Sunday, June 21, was National Aboriginal Day in Canada, a day for Canadians to celebrate the cultures and contributions of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. One such celebration was held at Edmonton Native Healing Centre, one of three urban ministries of the Christian Reformed Church that seeks to meet the spiritual and social needs of aboriginal Canadians. Participants celebrated with a fun walk and a barbecue.
“There’s a lot of dreaming that goes on in the heart of the Edmonton Native Healing Centre,” explained Michelle Nieviadomy, assistant director and youth coordinator. “After last year’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathering in Edmonton, our mayor declared a ‘Year of Reconciliation.’ [We] felt it was important to respond as a community organization as well as a Christian Reformed ministry that believes the heart of the Creator is reconciliation.”
What was a small dream in the centre’s office turned into a much bigger community dream as many hands became involved in the National Aboriginal Day event.
The event also provided an opportunity for conversation around the issue of missing and murdered women. According to a report released earlier this year, over a thousand aboriginal women and girls in Canada were murdered between 1980 and 2012—a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada. In addition, the report states that as of November 2013, at least 105 indigenous women and girls remain missing under suspicious circumstances or for undetermined reasons.
“The day of the event,” described Nievadomy, “we set out to walk 3 km (1.8 miles) with small bursts of Zumba! We handed out butterflies and asked people to send a prayer, while they were walking, for the missing and murdered women’s families and friends. We had City of Edmonton councilors come and speak. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful way to raise the issue of missing and murdered women in our Inglewood community. More importantly, it was important to celebrate with community.”
As a symbol of ongoing reconciliation efforts between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples and to honor the memory of missing and murdered Canadian aboriginal women, the centre also presented a commissioned painting to Edmonton Police Services.
The commissioned painting was created by Dawn Marie Marchant, a local Métis artist and advocate for indigenous issues. The art she created is called “Kamamak” (which means butterfly in Cree). In the painting, each butterfly represents 25 missing or murdered women. “Although this is a sad legacy,” said centre director and chaplain Harold Roscher, “our hope through gifting this to the police service was to reestablish a journey of reconciliation and community building, recognizing that the relationship between the police and the aboriginal community has not always been healthy.”