The third annual lighting of the Tree of Hope took place Sunday night in the park area north of Tom Davies Square, just outside the Greater Sudbury Police Service (GSPS) headquarters, shines a light on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The event was attended by roughly 50 people, who were on hand to show support for the Murdered missing and murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit (MMIWG2S+).
An initiative that began with Thunder Bay Police Service in 2019 and spread to Greater Sudbury in 2021, the Tree of Hope initiative aims to raise awareness of the issue of the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people, and to demonstrate to the families of the missing that the police hear them, that they acknowledge their pain and that they acknowledge police have not always been the allies they could have or should have been.
With the assistance of Greater Sudbury Utilities, a large evergreen on the grounds of the GSPS headquarters on Brady Street was draped in red lights, the colour of that symbolizes the missing and the murdered.
As well, GSU assisted in placing a wooden star, lit by orange lights, representing the children lost to residential schools, at the very top of the tree. The star was handmade by students at St. Charles College.
An initiative of the GSPS, the police service partnered with several local organizations on the initiative, including the Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre, Nogdawindamin Family and Community Services and N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre.
The ceremony included brief speeches held in the atrium at Tom Davies Square followed by the lighting event nearby, outside.
GSPS Indigenous Liaison Officer Darrel Rivers introduced Elder Julie Ozwagosh to open the evening with a prayer.
Ozwagosh also asked the gathering to remember those who are lost.
"Think about the women and the children, the young girls and and everyone that's been lost, or maybe not lost, but you know, had been murdered and haven't returned home or haven't been, taken back to their families," she said. "So we think about those families who are grieving who still have unfinished grieving, so we think about them this evening."
In his remarks to the crowd, GSPS Chief Paul Pedersen referred to the land acknowledgement for the Robinson Huron Treaty region.
"So the Greater Sudbury Police Service strives to build positive and respectful relationships with the original inhabitants of this land including First Nations peoples. Metis peoples and Inuit," said Pedersen.
He thanked the organizing team that put together the tree lighting event and spoke of the importance of acknowledging the MMIWG2S+ initiative.
Pedersen said the ceremony recognizes the historic relationship the police service and the Indigenous community has had over the years and said it was " not just the historic systemic racism that's been there."
Pedersen said the police service and the community at large needs to do better and has been working toward that.
"The truths that we're facing day in and day out today, with our relationships, and over representation in the judicial system. But I want you to also know that we are truly committed to doing better, truly committed to listening to these hard truths, and then to committing to reconciliation through meaningful and impactful change," he said.
"And I can tell you, honestly, we are trying our best. And we'll continue to try and be better," said the chief.
Once the tree lighting was held, participants were invited to make offerings at a sacred fire and enjoy the evening with refreshments.
Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.