It was a cold autumn afternoon in Secwepemc Territory when cars began to pour in for a rally and ceremony for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Local Syilx and Secwepemc women planned the event after locals spotted police at a farm belonging to the Sagmoen family.
Word of the Nov. 1 event, which took off from the Splatsin Community Centre spread quickly.
“We have to come together!” said Kupki7 Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith Indian Band and Secretary-Treasurer for the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). “United we can’t be divided! Don’t stop looking for your sisters! We’re not going away until our sisters are found! If it takes years, decades or centuries we will find our stolen sisters!”
Syilx and Secwepemc women showed up wearing ribbon skirts and bandanas, some adorned in red. They meant to amplify the cries for justice for the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) in Canada, participants of the event say.
When news got out that police were back at the Sagmoen farm, those familiar with Curtis Sagmoen’s history said they were concerned he had breached the conditions he received after hitting a woman at his farm with his ATV. Sagmoen served one day in prison after the assault.
Curtis’ parent’s farm lies nestled in a rural valley where cell service is spotty. The site was the target of an investigation in October 2017 when police found 18 year-old Traci Genereaux‘s body on the grounds.
Genereaux went missing from the Syilx territory in Vernon, B.C.
RCMP investigated Sagmoen at the time, though they did not lay charges.
The RCMP told IndigiNews that the Okanagan branch of the RCMP were there executing a search warrant in the 2000-block of Salmon River Road.
“One person was arrested by police and has since been released,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “At this time, charges have not been laid and police continue to investigate.”
No further details were provided, leaving those concerned with more questions than answers, participants say.
‘We are not going to go away’
RCMP present at the rally say they were there to keep the peace. They stood aside and allowed the women to do their ceremony work uninterrupted.
Family members still seeking justice for their own loved ones traveled from as far as Alberta, ten hours on snowy highways and remote roads, to attend the ceremony and show their support for all Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing.
A Secwepemc matriarch shared medicines, as people prayed, sang and stood in ceremony.
The ceremony was meant to cleanse and protect the families from further harm, participants explained. Ceremony is powerful, those who led the events claimed, which is why they invited the Sagmoen family to join them. It was an act of peace, one woman explained, and a chance for the families to find answers.
Traci Genereaux, Deanna Wertz, Ashley Simpson, Caitlin Potts and Nicole Bell, all who have gone missing over the years, were honoured. Photos were held and candles lit.
Family members yelled out the names of their women across the property of the farm.
Wilson told the crowd Canada is failing at implementing the calls to action from the MMIWG2S inquiry concluded in June 2019. In December 2018, Wilson criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for speaking to her in a manner she called condescending. In a written statement. UBCIC said his attitude was a “a contribution to the continued violence against Indigenous women.”
“There is no justice for those women we heard from in the courts. It is not okay anymore, we are going to stand together and we are going to change this!” Wilson declared.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls calls the ongoing crisis a “genocide” against Indigenous women. The inquiry, comprised of over 2,380 stories and testimonials from survivors, knowledge keepers and experts, includes 231 calls for justice.
But Indigenous women and families will not wait for the government to act. Wilson repeated a sentiment often heard at similar gatherings, saying that there will be no peace, until justice is served.
As Wilson’s speech came to a close, she spotted Wayne Sagmoen, Curtis’ father video-taping the event from his back porch.
“Come out and hear the truth!” Wilson yelled out to him. “We want justice now!”
But no one from the Sagmoen family joined the event, though a tractor drove up behind the RCMP officer present and shone its lights on the participants.
As night fell on the group, people got back in their cars and began to trickle away. Flags were hung out of cars and horns honked, the cries of the night clinging to the silence of the remote area.
“No justice, no peace!” people, young and old, yelled a final message for anyone around to hear.