By Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On Sisters in Spirit Day, an annual observance honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit people and relatives across Canada, the Piwapan Women’s Centre in La Ronge wants to send a clear message:

“Nobody is alone.”

This year, for the 13th time, the women’s centre has organized a Sisters in Spirit walk Tuesday, from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band office to the central urban reserve.

“Because of the message being shared, it’s really surreal to walk with everyone and know that they have all that support — for the work we do, and for the families within our community,” said Karen Sanderson. “It’s very soothing. It’s powerful.”

Sanderson is the executive director of the Piwapan Women’s Centre, which offers women’s shelter services and other supportive programs in the La Ronge area.

She says, in past years, the walk has brought more than 100 people out into the streets of La Ronge.

“The high schools are really good with participating, and we’ve had some schools up north come down for the event, too,” she said.

This is the first ‘normal’ Sisters in Spirit since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and people in La Ronge will be able to mark the day like they had planned: gathering to show their solidarity with the lost and missing and to support the Pipawan Women’s Centre’s violence prevention work, and sharing a meal of chili and bannock at the end.

“The community support that we have is great,” Sanderson said.

That support exists year-round, she noted. When the women’s centre wants to put on a new program or service to help people stay safe or break cycles of violence, the community is there to back them up with fundraisers, clothing drives and enthusiastic participation.

Sisters in Spirit is a time to take a step back and remember why that work is so necessary.

The exact number of MMIWG in Canada is unknown; activists, researchers and the RCMP estimate that between 1,000 and 4,000 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been killed in the span of three decades.

In La Ronge, that loss hits very close to home.

“Within our own community, there are those who have still been affected,” Sanderson said. “There are those who are still healing, and those who are still missing family members.

“So we want people to know that there are support systems out there. There are people that care; there are people that want to help in any way they can.”

(The Piwapan Women’s Centre in La Ronge is honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. Piwapan Women’s Centre.)