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GSPS again shines a light for missing, murdered Indigenous women

Police service hosts second annual Tree of Hope lighting to raise awareness of the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people, as the initiative grows to include eight other police services

Warmed by a sacred fire and impassioned by the beating of the drums, around 50 people gathered in the shadow of a large coniferous tree on the grounds of the Greater Sudbury Police Service on Nov. 13 for the second annual Tree of Hope lighting ceremony.

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.

And while the initiative is certainly one of healing, Det.-Const. Darrell Rivers, Indigenous liaison officer with GSPS, said it is “horrible” that such events have to be held at all.

“It’s horrible that we actually have to do something like this,” Rivers said. “But you know, as our chief (Police Chief Paul Pedersen) will speak to later, we are going to acknowledge our role as a police service in what has happened in the past, and we’re striving to, as a police service, do a lot better.”

As stated, the initiative began in Thunder Bay, grew to include Sudbury and now includes Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service, UCCM Anishnaabe Police, Anishinabek Police Service, Timmins Police Service, Barrie Police Service, Manitoulin OPP and Rama Police Service.

The first speaker of the evening was local elder (Nokomis) Martina Osawamick, who delivered an opening prayer in Anishinaabemowin, followed by a song, which she then explained to the crowd.

“We think about all the women, missing and murdered women and two-spirited people that have been taken too soon, and that’s what the song is about,” Osawamick said. “We are thinking about them this evening because their lives have ended too soon.”

GSPS Chief Paul Pedersen said the Tree of Hope initiative is an important step forward in the relationship between authorities like the police and Indigenous people and communities.

“Greater Sudbury Police Service continues to acknowledge our role in this hasn’t always been a positive role,” Pedersen said. “We acknowledge the systemic racism and oppression that has existed in our profession, and we continue to work on eliminating all forms of racism, all forms of oppression and really, truly striving to become a police service that everybody in our community can be proud of.

“And this is a step. Maybe it’s a small step, but it’s a step in a continued commitment to learning from the truth and moving towards reconciliation for change.”

Saying he believes GSPS can meld its values of “respect, inclusivity, courage and honesty” with the Seven Grandfather Teachings of Indigenous culture, Pedersen drew attention to the mural on the side of GSPS headquarters, upon which the GSPS values have been translated into Ojibwe.

Following Pedersen, Wahnapitae First Nation Chief Larry Roque was also on hand to offer his “thoughts and prayers” to all families who have lost loved ones to violence.

“I’ll be here every year as long as there’s missing and murdered women and girls,” Roque said. “As long as I’m breathing and able to, I will fight for that cause and I hope everybody else does too.”

Atikameksheng Anishnawbek Deputy Chief Jennifer Petahtegoose spoke on behalf of her community.

“This evening is about life-givers … our women, our beautiful ‘anishnaabe-kwe’,” she said. “We honour the lives of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and our LGBTQ2S community.”

The final speaker of the evening was 16-year-old Nevaeh Pine of Garden River First Nation. Rivers, the GSPS liaison officer, said he first saw her speak at a conference and wanted to include her in the evening.

As reported by in June, Nevaeh earned second place at Speaker’s Idol, a Canada-wide speaking contest hosted by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies. She was chosen as one of 12 finalists, competing against participants from Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta. 

Pine’s speech focused on the Every Child Matters movement, which gained traction across Canada after Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Nation used ground-penetrating radar to find what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. 

She delivered the speech on Sunday evening. 

“It is time to stand up and to stop this to bring our voices together and not let this continue in our country. I believe we all have a place in the medicine wheel. We can all make a difference,” Nevaeh said. “There's a message being shared across social media. The author is unknown: ‘I am a strong Anishnaabe, a woman, I am content. If there ever comes a time where I go for groceries and don't return, where I go to school or a friend's house and don't come home. No, I did not voluntarily leave my family. I am not out partying. If there ever comes a time where I don't return. No, someone took me against my will. Don't make excuses as to why I might not have returned. Look for me. Please.’

“These women did not get the media coverage they deserved. They did not ask to be taken. We need to stop victim blaming and stand together. We need to do something because no one asks to disappear.”

Following her address, the attendees gathered for the lighting of the Tree of Hope as a men’s drum group played. The Tree of Hope, whether in Sudbury or in any of the other participating communities, will stay lit through the holiday season.

Mark Gentili is the editor of