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Vigil brings call to end violence

Erika Sherk
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 08/06) - Wednesday afternoon was the first time Marie Speakman had ever spoken publicly about the abuse she had witnessed.

When she was seven, Speakman saw her younger sister being beaten.

Her five-year-old sister had her hair pulled back by a caregiver, who then hit the little girl repeatedly in the face.

"She was screaming. Her face was bleeding," said Speakman. "And I stood there and watched."

She blocked out the memory for years, Speakman said.

It came back when she was much older, and she said she would panic when she heard children screaming in play at school.

Now a victim service worker with Yellowknife Victim Services, Speakman helped organize the Dec. 6 vigil held on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

The day is marked nationally each year to remember the 14 women killed at l'Ecole polytechnique in the Montreal Massacre in 1989.

However, in Yellowknife, there was a new focus this year - remembering the women in the North who have experienced violence.

The theme here was "Lighting Our Way." About 100 people took part in the afternoon event.

"We are coming from a dark time in our lives going to a brighter perspective. We are taking action and liberating women in that position," said Samantha Dechief.

Dechief spoke at the event, telling of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.

"I will speak from my heart as the only voice I have left is my heart," she said.

Being raped and abused by a person she thought loved her had an extreme impact on her life, she said.

"We need to stop these experiences," said Dechief. "As a survivor of abuse, I need this to stop."

Kiera Kolson, youth council president for the Native Women's Association, sang "Little Sister" - a song she had written.

"We're all, in many ways, a little sister to somebody," she said. "The topic I chose was an abusive relationship. Like I sang, real love won't leave you black and blue."

Rita Chretien, also known as Snowbird, sang a song she had written called "Sisters in Spirit."

"I want us to remember that their lives had meaning," she said. "They were someone's sister, someone's wife, someone's daughter."

"At one point they were someone's baby," she added.

Sometimes people say of aboriginal women who have been killed: "they were just sex-trade workers," said Chretien. "But that's not what I think about. I think, they were someone's baby."

"I think issues like this tend to be buried if we don't draw attention to them," said emcee Gail Cyr. "We need to keep telling the story."

People lit candles and wrote names of women who had been murdered on a sheet of paper.

Ruth McCullough, who sang with Snowbird, wrote the name of her niece, Janelle Mercredi.

"She was 21," said McCullough sadly. "She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was brutally murdered."

People need to work positively to stop violence against women, said McCullough.

"It can be prevented," she said. "These women did not need to die."