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Wrapping our families in love: bringing healing home for Kwakwaka’wakw families of MMIWG

This gathering is a vision of Cary-Lee Calder, a member of the Quatsino First Nation.
CARY-LEE CALDER PHOTO Angeline Pete (pictured above) has been missing since May 2011.

Kwakwaka’wakw families whose loved ones have been murdered or missing will gather for two days of healing and connectedness in their own traditional territory on May 20-22.

The gathering will begin with the strength of Kwakwaka’wakw people, an evening of cultural sharing and ceremony will be held in the gukdzi (big house) in Tsaxis, also known as Kwakiutl First Nation, located in North Vancouver Island near Port Hardy, BC followed by two days at the Port Hardy Civic Center with Quatsino First Nation as the host nation.

For Kwakwaka’wakw people, family connections are an important cultural value which this gathering will offer for families who have lost loved ones. Over the two and a half days, families will have opportunity gather strength from one another through sharing about their loved one, some of them for the first time speaking about their loss. The gathering brings together families, Chiefs, Elders and leaders from Kwakwaka’wakw nations across the territory for an opportunity to participate in cultural healing ceremonies, teachings and activities that are foundational to the wellbeing of Kwakwaka’wakw people.

This gathering is a vision of Cary-Lee Calder, a member of the Quatsino First Nation, whose niece Angeline Pete has been missing since May 2011, to bring healing home. Shortly after the Provincial gathering of families of MMIWG held in L’heidli T’enneh territory in 2016 and the National Inquiry for the MMIWG in 2018 where participation was limited to 2-3 family members, Cary recognized the importance of hosting a gathering in her own territory so that more families could be included in healing ceremony and activities that grounded in Kwakwaka’wakw teachings and practices. Cary’s niece is one of many Kwakwaka’wakw women and girls who have gone missing or have been murdered over the decades, which now just gaining acknowledgement and recognition by the wider society and media in recent years.

To launch the gathering and to bring greater awareness of this significant issue and its impact on Kwakwaka’wakw families, a red dress campaign will be held from May 17 – 23, 2019 in Port Hardy where red dresses will line Market Street in honour of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. The legacy of this gathering will be captured in video that will help raise awareness and gifted to the families who have lost loved ones.

The gathering has received support from the BC government, First Nations Health Authority, Island Health, Quatsino First Nation along with many other individuals and agencies.

“This gathering is on the anniversary of the day Angeline disappeared in May 2011. Our loss has broken our families, everyone in all our Kwakwaka’wakw communities are affected by the loss of our loved ones which is why a community-based and community driven gathering is so important, we need to talk about it, we need to find ways to heal and for some, bring closure, it was important for me to do what I could to help bring healing home for our people,” noted Calder.

James Nelson of the Quatsino First Nation, stated, “We are honored to host this gathering and to welcome the Kwakwaka’wakw families for this greatly needed gathering. This is our way, as Kwakwaka’wakw people to gather and support one another.”

There are 17 distinct Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations communities whose territories span North Vancouver Island and mainland in BC, some with remote locations along the coast.

The provincial family gathering for MMIWG was hosted in L’heidli T’enneh territory in 2016 by the BC government in partnership with the Leadership Council, Métis Nation BC, and the Ministers Advisory Council on Indigenous Women.

- press release

Tyson Whitney

About the Author: Tyson Whitney

I have been working in the community newspaper business for nearly a decade, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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