At Dec. 6 vigil, Iqalummiut remember the dead, honour the living
“It means everything. It’s something that I have forever, to remember my sister”
It was a moving evening at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit Dec. 6.
About 130 people, including very small children, crowded into the Tisi gathering area, which was decorated with candles, a flower bouquet and roses for a vigil marking the national day of remembrance and action in violence against women.
The event was first created in memory of 14 female engineering students who were shot down by a gunman at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in 1989.
Iqaluit’s vigil, a partnership between the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, YWCA Aggvik Nunavut and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, aims to raise awareness in the community about violence against women, and to honour Nunavut women who have died by violent means.
While violent crimes are decreasing in the rest of Canada, they are increasing in Nunavut, and most often the target of those crimes are women and children, with women the victims in 90 per cent of Nunavut’s cases of spousal abuse, she said.
The ceremony began with a performance by Terrie Kusugak, who played guitar and sang to a sombre crowd.
“We love you brave woman, we miss your great soul,” she sang.
“It’s good to be here to remember the women we love,” Qulliit’s acting president Charlotte Borg said.
The date not only marked the anniversary of the deaths of the women of the Montreal massacre, but also that of 13-year old Jennifer Naglingniq, who was found dead in her mother’s Iqaluit home 10 years ago.
After a moment of silence and the placing of roses on a table in front of the stages in memory of many women, including Vivian Sula Enuaraq, who was murdered along with her two children last year, Joanna Awa presented the Jennifer Naglingniq Memorial Award while people cried, clutched roses and comforted each other.
Awa said Naglingniq’s murder shook the community and devastated Jennifer’s mother, Nicotye Naglingniq.
“Nicotye was our dear colleague at CBC. She never recovered after losing her only child and later took her own life,” Awa said.
“One act of senseless violence took two lives,” she added, her voice cracking.
Jennifer Naglingniq’s sister, Grade 12 Inuksuk student Natasha Wisintainer, received the memorial award, a plaque with Naglingniq’s picture and a cheque for $100 dollars.
Caroline Noah, Wisintainer’s mother, said she’s proud of her daughter, but said it’s unfortunate her father couldn’t attend the ceremony.
“I’m very proud of her, she is a real good role model because she’s like that at home,” Noah said.
Wisintainer, through tears said that the award means a lot to her.
“It means everything. It’s something that I have forever, to remember my sister,” she said.
Awa said that Wistintainer leads by example by participating actively in school, participating in community events, being a soccer summer camp leader and assisting peers in class “willingly and with kindness.”
She is “an eager learner in school, whether sewing, English, or math.” Wistintainer also maintains a sense of humour and is all around a great student,” Awa said.
She looks after siblings at home and “is a consistent positive role model in school, in the community and pursues a healthy lifestyle.”
“She is a very deserving awards-winner and we are pleased to have an opportunity to publicly recognize for her contributions,” Awa said to a long applause.
Afterward, Ellen Hamilton, the keynote speaker, told the crowd about her experiences facing violence, being controlled, abused and at times afraid.
“I guess I’m asking them [women] and you to look into the mirror and look into your eyes and see the fire that’s there and see the love in your heart,” she told the audience before singing a song she wrote about domestic violence.
The same day, the Government of Nunavut released a statement recognizing the importance of putting an end to violence.
“What can each of us do to prevent violence in our homes and our communities?” Monica Ell, the minister responsible for the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, stated in a release.
“Let us each take concrete actions to prevent violence that is so prevalent in Nunavut,” she said.
Ell said that working towards a Nunavut where violence is not tolerated is a goal of hers, as a mother and a grandmother.
“Suggesting that a friend stop drinking and seek medical help can save a life. Proper storage of firearms and bullets can save lives. Picking up a telephone and calling for help is not a weakness,” she said.
Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq also issued a statement, pointing out that violence and the threat of violence continues to be a daily reality for many Nunavut women.
“Let’s work to take action and free women and girls of violence in their homes and communities,” Aglukkaq said.