Dey Stewart doesn’t want her niece to be forgotten.
Angila Jean Wilson was living in Clearwater, B.C., with her children, ages two, five and six at the time, when three years ago she was murdered. Her killer went to prison, her children were adopted, and on Wednesday she was one of several women remembered during a vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women outside City Hall.
“She struggled hard to move ahead in her life,” said Stewart, who carried a picture of Wilson at the event.
“She was a nurse’s aid, she was a dedicated mom. She had left her relationship, which we know is the time when women are most at risk. So she was murdered by her estranged common law spouse.”
The Sisters in Spirit Vigil, which was organized jointly by Amnesty International Canada and the Native Women’s Association of Canada, was one of hundreds held across Canada to remember girls, women and two-spirit people.
In Nelson, people gathered to share memories of their loved ones. Nora, who declined to give her last name, has been seeking justice for over 40 years. Her friend Upi was 16 years old when she went north to visit family in 1976 and never returned.
The official story, Nora said, was that Upi was a runaway. But she wasn’t.
“Because now we refer to the area she was in as the Highway of Tears,” said Nora.
“It has affected my life in many ways, but her family, what they have gone through is horrendous and my feelings could never be anything remotely close to theirs.”
It was the second year the vigil has been held in Nelson, and was well attended. After stories were shared, those present lit candles and stood in solidarity to face traffic. Several cars slowed and honked in support.
Mary Ann Morris, who works with Amnesty, said she thought the vigil provided emotional support for participants.
“I was struck by how many personal stories there were of people who knew an Indigenous woman who had been murdered,” said Morris. “I think it makes it real. I think it provides a space where people feel supported, where people feel heard.”
Stewart attended the event last year, but grappled with whether or not she should return.
“It helps a lot. I say to my son, ‘I don’t know if I can go for one more year.’ And then I think I can’t not go. I think what we can offer is solidarity for the Indigenous families who I think have faced far more in terms of the lack of systemic support for looking their young people.”
The vigils were held at a time of uncertainty surrounding the federal inquiry set up to investigate the causes of Indigenous women’s deaths and disappearances.
The inquiry has a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline to file its final report, but has been plagued by resignations, accusations that police departments aren’t being investigated, bureaucratic stalling and calls for the entire commission to be rebooted.
An interim report from the inquiry is due Nov. 1.
Despite those issues, Morris said she still believes in the commission, which held public hearings last week in Smithers, B.C.
“I heard that in Smithers it had gone better than it has in a while,” said Morris. “That there was more recognition of the importance of having emotional support for people who were sharing, being prepared for the fallout after the sharing.”
Others are more skeptical.
Nora said she was pleased vigils were being held, but remained unsure what affect they were having.
“Will this help? Hopefully,” she said. “When? I have no idea.”