Calgarians gathered at Olympic Plaza on Friday to celebrate the lives and mourn the loss of the victims killed on the James Smith Cree Nation.
It was an emotional, sorrowful, but also at times joyful vigil that saw jingle dress healing dances, prayer, song, and above all community togetherness.
Organizers hoped that the vigil would begin the process of healing after the tragedy that killed 10, and left 18 others injured.
“We wanted to really make sure that everybody recognizes the importance of coming together through prayer, through drums, through singing ,and through dancing because this are the ways which we know can heal us,” said Alycia Two Bears, co-organizer for the vigil.
Several hundred people gathered for the hour long event, which ended in a round dance that circled the entirety of the Olympic Plaza reflecting pond.
Two Bears said that she felt the need to organize the vigil after seeing members of her family and members of her community who were directly impacted by the attacks, in distress.
“I really hope that everybody continues to come together, and recognizes that this sense of unity and community should be spread out to every nation across Turtle Island,” she said.
Support for the James Smith Cree Nation
Prior to the vigil, attendees were asked to assist members of the James Smith Cree Nation by providing gift cards to Walmart. Those in attendance were also asked to sign condolence cards.
The James Smith Cree Nation closed their Go Fund Me earlier in the week after it reached the $100,000 goal. Two Bears asked attendees to respect the wishes of the nation, and not donate cash or money via e-transfer.
“As this nation continues to heal, please continue to listen to what they need,” she said.
Bren Little Light, a co-organizer for the vigil, said that the Walmart cards were important to provide essentials while many of the nation’s members are as of yet unable to return home.
“A lot of them can’t go home because they’re still active crime scenes, and so they’re living out of hotels or living at friend’s houses,” she said.
Little Light said that right now condolences and prayers are also needed.
“Just send your condolences, send your prayers—prayers are big right now—and just make sure that the family is feeling that love so that they can heal, they now can bring home their family members.”
Attack impacts felt locally
During the vigil, members of the public who had been personally impacted through their connections to the James Smith Cree Nation got up to speak.
Debbie Green, a musician and Indigenous rights activist, and her sister Karen were among those who spoke.
“We’re both from Saskatchewan, most of my family is in Saskatchewan, and I think everybody was impacted in Saskatchewan—indigenous or non Indigenous—by the tragedies.”
Green said she wanted to be present at the vigil because of that connection, and also because of the need for healing.
“Because when something like this happens, what happens to one happens to all, and so we’re in a collective state of grief.”
“We need these gatherings to bring some healing to our spirits of hearts and it just helps lighten that load.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek attended the vigil on Friday. She went directly downtown for the vigil from the airport, after arriving back in Calgary after her trip to Los Angeles.
“It’s important to be here with not only with members of indigenous communities from across this land, but with our neighbours, our family members, that’s how I feel.”
“We are family, and it’s important to be here to show that we care.”
She said that Canada remains in shock from the jarring attacks.
Solutions include financial support to end poverty, and for mental health
Two Bears said that there was likely closure to be had after the perpetrator of the attacks was arrested by RCMP. Myles Sanderson, the primary suspect in the attacks, later died in police custody.
“There’s probably closure now that that whole episode is done and to feel safety and security in your community again,” she said.
“But that significant amount of trauma will linger, and it needs to be taken care of.”
She said that the continued effects of violence borne in communities as a result of colonialism will only continue without financial support from governments, and without cultural support from each other.
“This is going to continue to repeat, because it’s it’s already happening.”
Little Light said that greater resources need to be put towards Indigenous mental health.
“We really need indigenous mental health resources, because of all those children that have gone through that trauma, the families, the uncles, the aunts, the grandparents.”
She said that support needs to continue, and not just for the time that the media and the public has its attention focused on the attacks.
“What happens in two weeks once the media has gone? Once the cameras are gone? We still need to be there for that community.”
Photos from the vigil