THUNDER BAY - Exactly 1,200 red bulbs representing each of the missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada will serve as a reminder of those who have been lost and hopefully help find closure for the families.
“It brings together the community for the same cause and to help solve one of these cases,” said Const. Sharlene Bourdeau with the Thunder Bay Police Service. “I couldn’t imagine having a sibling or a mother or an aunt leave the house and never return home. You have to have closure. You have to have some sort of closure and somebody out there has seen something.”
The lights on the Tree of Hope were officially lit Sunday night and Bourdeau, who spearheaded the project, said she is overwhelmed to see the tree finally lit up and the support from the community the entire way.
“It is just awesome,” she said. “It is overwhelming to not only see the tree lit up with the blue star, but the support from the community, the organizers and the donations.”
Earlier this year the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls final report was released and includes 231 calls to justice.
Bourdeau said having the Tree of Hope lit up outside the Thunder Bay Police Service Balmoral headquarters has a very special significance, with the blue star atop the tree representing commitment from law enforcement to solving the cases.
“The significance of it being at the Police Station is the RCMP have confirmed 1,200 missing and murdered and with the address being 1200 Balmoral Street and us being in the centre of the country and also the two reports that have gone our previous to this, as well as the missing and murdered final report,” she said.
The Tree of Hope Project is hoping to raise $48,000 that will be used as a reward for information that leads to an arrest in one of the MMIWG cases.
Crime Stoppers will provide an additional $2,000, making the total reward $50,000.
“How sweet is that going to be,” Bourdeau said. “They walk out of the bank anonymous with $50,000 and we have our accused. That’s all I want.”
The project has already raised $13,000, with the help of a $6,000 donation Sunday night by the Ontario Native Women’s Association.
Cora McGuire-Cyrette, executive director of ONWA, said the donation is an opportunity to be a leader and role model in the community.
“We will be challenging other leaders to match our donation and to donate, and the hope obviously is that a community member, citizens, Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities are brave enough to come forward with their knowledge of what they know regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, all across our community,” she said.
“That really helps toward the cause,” Bourdeau said. “I’m flattered with all the nice things people have said. They have to realize this project is not about me, this is about the community itself. With reconciliation everybody gets together for the same cause and helping to solve one of these cases. I just came up with the idea but it wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the support of all the organizations.”
While this is the first year for the Tree of Hope Project, Bourdeau said it will be a yearly tradition and there are plans to light up the remaining three of the four evergreen trees in front of the Thunder Bay Police Service headquarters this year after they receive enough donations.
“Our goal is when you drive by and see all four trees lit that we have reached our goal but this will continue year after year,” she said. “We will challenge other police services.”
For more information and to donate visit the Tree of Hope Project website.