… and there are no words to describe it. I am left only with raw, visceral emotion, that impacts, that lingers, that stays in your gut and your chest, which moves through your body in ways that you know, now, will change you.
I am left with the deep pain of witnessing such tremendous suffering, such unimaginable sorrow, and such tragedy.
And I am left with deep gratitude for the strength, courage, endurance, perseverance, resilience, power, and love that was demonstrated in that moment, on that stage, by the indomitable and inspirational Elder Agnes “Aggie Baby” Gould.
For 23 years this April, Elder Agnes has unflinchingly faced her grief, loss, and uncertainty to become a strong, powerful, and passionate advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and their loved ones everywhere. She has worked tirelessly to ensure that her sister, and the many other sisters, wives, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, cousins, and friends out there, will not be forgotten. She has lobbied, she has spoken, she has persisted – and now, finally, Canada is moving forward with a National Inquiry, to discover the truths, to find out the stories, to expose another dark corner of Canada.
In 2014, the RCMP released a report attempting to identify how many Indigenous women in Canada have been murdered or gone missing. In this report, they identify that 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered between 1980 and 2012, and 164 are missing. 225 cases are unsolved. Indigenous women and girls are over-represented at the national homicide level, representing approximately 16% of all female homicides in the country, which is greater than their representation in the female population as a whole.
While the report concluded “that the total number of murdered and missing Aboriginal females exceeds previous public estimates”, many argue that these numbers are low estimates that do not reflect the full story and, that with a National Inquiry, a truer representation will emerge, as current data sources are limited at best.
Behind all the numbers, behind the statistics, behind the reporting, there are faces, and lives, and people, and family and friends who are deeply affected, day after day, who persevere, who fight, who advocate, who reach out, who endure for those they love, for those they will never forget.
We need to honour each and every one of them
And, as we were reminded last night, this isn’t just a woman’s issue. It is for all of us. We need to stop this violence against everyone, and we need all voices in this dialogue. We need to stop classifying people on gender identity and sexual identity; we need to sop blaming the victims; we need to stop perpetuating damaging stereotypes that excuse the actions of others, and that have allowed this national tragedy to continue for so many years.
This work and this understanding is part of the Reconciliation journey in Canada. We have no choice to move forward with Reconciliation in this country – and in order to do so, we need to honour, respect, understand, listen, and bear witness to the stories of loss that thousands live with across this country.
And while there are no words to adequately articulate the gift that Agnes gave to all of us through the class last night, to the #taliaqCBU family, there was an outpouring of beauty and love from social media:
Agnes Gould. My goodness. #TaliaqCBU
— Michelle Lahey (@Michelle_Lahey) March 1, 2016
— Joan Peddle (@JoanJopeddle) March 1, 2016
#taliaqcbu Kji Wela'lin Agnes much love and respect!!!
— George McLeod (@GeorgeGlmk) March 1, 2016
— Allison (@AllisonLynnNL) March 1, 2016
Aggie Baby has honoured us with her story of pain, love, and perseverance. I will never be the same. #TaliaqCBU
— Tania Sa'n-Knockwood (@TheTanChristmas) March 1, 2016
— Roads To Sea Tours (@RoadsToSea) March 1, 2016
A dream, a death, an everlasting hole in your heart. Aggie baby, my soul is with you. This hole will never be filled #TaliaqCBU
— Angie Kolonich (@akolonich) March 1, 2016
— Mallery ♡ Anne (@MalDenny06) March 1, 2016
— Ashlee CunsoloWillox (@CunsoloWillox) March 1, 2016
— CBU (@cbuniversity) February 29, 2016
"Every now and then when I speak Mi'kmaq you'll see me (flinch) cuz I'm used to being hit" .. Shocking, unacceptable!#TaliaqCBU
— Shane Snook (@ShaneSnook_Wolf) February 29, 2016
— Stacey Black (@SBlackFenix) February 29, 2016
Thank you Agnes, I am grateful for you. #TaliaqCBU
— Natively Creative (@LAHalfcaf) February 29, 2016
— Caroline Avrsb (@CarolineAvrsb) February 29, 2016
There are no words for what happened tonight during #taliaqCBU. Only gratitude. Gratitude for strength, courage, resilience, power, & love.
— Ashlee CunsoloWillox (@CunsoloWillox) March 1, 2016
Now, there is nothing more to be said other than this:
We are honoured.
We are humbled.
We are changed.
Wela’lin, Agnes, for gracing us with your presence, your power, and your spirit. To you – and all the others who have been impacted by Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – we dedicate our deepest honour, respect, and love.
And now that we heard your story, we will never be the same.
As Jeff Ward said to close out last night’s class, if no one has told you today they love you, let me be the first:
Kesalul. I love you.
Kesasul. I shine on you brightly.
Msit No’kmaq. All my relations.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls Inquiry 24-Hr National Crisis Line: 1-844-413-6649
Moose Hide Campaign: “It’s a way to connect us to the healthy warrior within.”
Hashtags to connect with social media conversations: #MMIW #MMIWG #stolensisters #nomorestolensisters #imnotnext