Campus Life  

OC joins Vernon and Salmon Arm communities to hold vigil against violence against women

United Against Violence Against Women Online Candlelight Vigil

Many activities stopped as a result of the 2020 pandemic. Violence against women, however, is not one of them.

This is why communities in the Okanagan and Shuswap are paying special attention to the 31st anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre, in addition to the ongoing cases of missing women from the region, with a Virtual Candlelight Vigil on Dec. 6 co-hosted by a network of organizations and volunteers.

“The SAFE Society has been partnering with Okanagan College Students’ Union and Aboriginal Services for over a decade to offer this event. It was important to us to offer this event again this year, even if we cannot be together. We are incredibly grateful to all those who have put their time and energy into making this virtual event happen. COVID-19 has not made violence against women go away. If anything, women have been even more vulnerable during this time. The Dec. 6 event is an important way to remember and honour women who have lost their lives due to violence or continue to struggle with it,” said Kathy McIntyre-Paul, Stopping the Violence Counsellor, SAFE Society.

“Dec. 6, the anniversary of the ‘Montreal Massacre,’ has come to symbolize the threat and reality of violence in women’s daily lives simply because of their gender. The potential for humanity is lost whenever a woman is murdered. This day of remembrance and action is a way of giving a voice to those who have no voice. We must remember and then we must act to create a world where this does not continue to happen. We can start with a national action plan to ensure follow-up to the National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women’s final report’s calls to justice,” said Micki Materi, Co-Executive Director of Programs, Archway Society for Domestic Peace.

In previous years, communities in Salmon Arm and Vernon would use their home campus to host separate ceremonies. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the event is being combined and hosted virtually to keep organizers and participants safe.

Co-hosted by the SAFE Society, Okanagan College Students’ Union (OCSU), Vernon Students’ Association of OC (VSAOC) and Okanagan College Aboriginal Services, the event will open with a territory welcome and prayers offered by elders from both regions. Welcome songs from the Okanagan and Secwepemc territories will be performed by band members. Representatives from the different nations will speak. A roundtable discussion, organized by OCSU representative Madeline Wiebe and the VSAOC, exploring how safe students feel on campus will be presented. Drumming and the Women’s Warrior Song will be key online features, in addition to music by Jessica Heaven, Jake McIntyre-Paul and Patrick Ryley.

“The Vernon Students’ Association Okanagan College has been a long-time supporter of this event. We are involved in a number of initiatives that tackle violence directed against females, and we are proud to stand with other community organizations to address these systemic issues,” said Eric Reist, General Manager, VSAOC.

On Dec. 6, 1989, an armed man walked into a classroom at Polytechnique Montréal, separated the male students from the females, and killed 14 women. Now known as the École Polytechnique Massacre, the attack stunned the country and sent shockwaves throughout the entire world, prompting discussion about access and inclusion of women in post-secondary education. For more than 30 years, post-secondary institutions have held vigils and ceremonies to remember.

Families in the Shuswap and Okanagan know, however, that the acts of violence are not solely things of the past. Candlelight vigils in the regions have grown in attendance throughout the years as more people learn how Indigenous women are more likely to experience violence than non-Aboriginal women – and as people in the community experience this tragedy for themselves. Since 2016, four women from Salmon Arm, Enderby and Vernon have gone missing: Caitlin Potts, Ashley Simpson, Deanna Wertz and Nicole Bell.

“While we know that this issue has been given national attention, we can’t forget that this can and does happen close to home. Events like this reaffirm our commitment to supporting our local communities,” said James Coble, Director of Student Services, Okanagan College. “Okanagan College stands in solidarity with families and friends of missing women, and know for many, this event can act as a catalyst for healing.”

In addition to the co-hosts, community members and organizations collaborating on the event include: Splatsin Band Coun. and Elder Edna Felix, Elder Penny Lawrence (Okanagan Indian Band and RLTC Board Member), Laureen Felix (Splatsin Band member and local youth advocate), Justen Peters (OKIB), United Church Rev. Jenny Carter, Karen McAndless-Davis (author of When Love Hurts), Michael Ochoa (OKIB), Jacquelyn Rose (Métis Nation) and Deanna Gooden (Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC).

At the end of the video vigil, everyone in the Shuswap and Okanagan is invited to light a candle of remembrance in their own home.

For information and to watch videos the day of the vigil, go to www.okanagan.bc.ca/vigil. Given the difficult nature of the event, a special resources section has been established on the webpage as well, providing links to community services, interventions and crisis support.

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