THUNDER BAY - For those who have lost a loved one and continue to search for answers, it’s important to share the stories of the pain and struggle, not only for their own healing, but to help others understand as well.
“Research is showing more and more that it’s the lived experience, the people who have the lived experience and telling their stories are making the most impact on the people who don’t know the stories,” said Kim Ducharme, the organizer of a walk in honour of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. “That’s where the healing comes in.”
Dozens of people braved the cold weather on Friday to participate in the walk from Thunder Bay City Hall to the Hub Bazaar.
Sharon Johnson started the walk 13 years ago in honour of her sister Sandra who was found dead on the frozen Neebing-McIntyre Floodway in 1992. The Full Moon Memory Walk is also held every September to remember Indigenous women and girls who have been lost.
Ducharme has now taken over organizing the walk, but she said it is not something she is doing alone.
“I feel like with Sharon passing the torch, the community has rallied and said you don’t need to do this on your own, we are going to keep this going,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be just Indigenous people planning these events. I think it’s time for white people, colonizers, settlers to support events like this and honour missing and murdered Indigenous people.”
The walks started by Sharon have become a routine for the people of Thunder Bay, Ducharme said, bringing the community together every year to share in the pain and the healing.
“People expect these walks to happen,” she said. “They are part of their routine of this is what we do on Valentine’s Day, this is what we do at the full moon in September. I just think it’s really important to keep these traditions going, to keep the momentum going on these walks.”
“I think it is a testimony to the fabulous work and the dedication and the love that this community has for Sharon and all the other women who have built up this event and this routine. I’m really honoured to be part of it.”
Tracey MacKinnon, who helped Ducharme organize the walk, said Valentine’s Day is perfect for remembering someone who has passed away or all loves ones, and seeing so many people from the community coming out support is important.
“It’s an awesome feeling for all the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls families who have loved ones gone missing,” she said. “It’s community. It takes community to pull off this walk, it take community to hold ceremony and hold space for the family members have someplace to go to remember their loved ones for just one day a year.”
Before and after the walk, several women shared stories of having lost someone, including Ann Magiskan, former Aboriginal Liason with the city of Thunder Bay, who shared her story of losing a cousin in B.C. who was murdered.
“We walked through a journey with my family during the inquiry for MMIWG,” she said. “It was a hard journey to sit through as a support person as family members who are regurgitating pain, the pain of losing somebody and not having answers as to why we’ve lost so many women.”
But sharing that pain is important, Magiskan said, not just for Indigenous women, but men and young Indigenous people out walking on Friday.
“We need to start talking about truth and bringing it out to the surface so more women and young people can come forward and talk about what they are dealing with so we all have an awareness,” she said.