Elders blessed the sacred fire and put down their bundles to open the week of hearings for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Winnipeg Monday.
“We wish for good things for the families,” said Thelma Morrisseau.
“We lifted our pipes and we lifted the water and offered our prayers in asking, well, for good things for today through Friday.”
Two commissioners – Michelle Audette and Brian Eyolfson – were inside the covered wigwam erected to protect the fire that will burn all week as families and survivors share their emotional and troubling stories.
An estimated 70 families have registered so far to participate in the national inquiry’s stop in Manitoba – the third official set of hearings.
The ceremonies and traditions of Treaty 1 territory will be reflected throughout the week.
“We work, we carry the bundle, we bring it when people ask for it,” added Stan LaPierre. “We will hold an opening ceremony every morning, asking Spirit to help them through this process.”
The sunrise ceremony drew about 30 people.
Audette said she’d also taken part in a sweat lodge and feast over the past few days.
“They make us dance, they make us sing, and eat a lot. There are some things that I can relate from my own ceremonies at home,” she said of her Innu-French Canadian background.
“I have to say that it’s needed for us the commissioners, it’s needed for the staff also because it’s going to be very emotional, and I think it was a perfect way to start the day.”
The hearings are being held at a downtown hotel.
“For me, I believe we put aside politics, put aside everything that was out there for many weeks, and now we have to honour the families, the survivors. We have to listen carefully what they have said to us, what they want to say to us,” said Audette.
“I hope that every Canadian will watch and listen because they are courageous and we have to honour them.”
Families and survivors can visit the fire any time during the week and sit with the firekeeper.
Audette said she expected more families to come forward this week who haven’t registered yet.
“The 75 (families) that are coming forward, they become spokespeople, ambassadors to say, ‘I do it, so you can do it,’” said Audette.
The inquiry is in somewhat unfriendly territory where two major Aboriginal organizations have called for it to disband.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak have called for a “hard reset” and for chief commissioner Marion Buller to step down.
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