Morning Sky Woman is a survivor.
She's endured neglect, sexual abuse, domestic violence and substance abuse, and lived to tell the tale.
“I am proud to say I have overcome much of my hurt, and that I have embraced and nurtured that broken little girl within,” she said.
“I can say that she is happy now because every day I acknowledge her for her strength and endurance. She is my fire keeper within. She keeps my fire burning bright to light the way for others who are lost in their darkness.”
Morning Sky Woman, who asked to be identified only by her Anishnaabe name, was one of those who spoke at a candlelight vigil at Memorial Park Feb. 14.
Despite the snowy weather, about 30 people showed up at the event, which was held to remember missing and murdered Aboriginal women and to honour survivors of violence.
Participants marched from the N'Swakamok Native Friendship Centre to Memorial Park for the event. Supporters of the Idle No More movement, V-Day One Billion and Rising, a global movement to end violence against women, the Women's Memorial March, which started in Vancouver's Downtown East Side to remember missing and murdered women, and Have a Heart Day, which aims to draw attention to the needs of First Nations children, all took part.
Bruce McComber, who helped to organize the event, said 700 Aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada since the 1960s.
He said Aboriginal women are also seven times more likely than any other group of women to face sexual violence in their lifetime.
McComber said he thinks that's because 90 per cent of Aboriginal people in Canada live below the poverty line.
“You always hear that poor and homeless are the most vulnerable” to violence, he said.
“I think it has a lot to do with the cultural dispossession,” he said.
“Combine that with poverty, and you've a right mixture for addiction, for prostitution, and all those types of behaviours.”
People need to stop “turning a blind eye” to violence against Aboriginal women, and women in general, said Andrea Gustafson, another one of the event's organizers. “We need to say that this is not acceptable.”
When Morning Sky Woman was four and a half years old, she witnessed her mother murder her step-father, an event which led her to live under the care of whit foster parents for most of her childhood.
She was placed back in her mother's care for a short period of time a few years later. It was then that she witnessed her mother's rape.
I gripped her arm and closed my eyes tight as this man proceeded to rape her while she lay passed out on my bed.
Morning Sky Woman
“I can remember as a while my mother stumbling into my bed and a man following her,” she said.
“I clung to her arm, tears in my eyes, pleading for her to wake up. I gripped her arm and closed my eyes tight as this man proceeded to rape her while she lay passed out on my bed. From a young age I had witnessed what no child should ever see.”
Morning Sky Woman said she also suffered emotional and sexual abuse herself in one of her foster homes. This helped to push her toward a life of substance abuse, self-harm and crime.
“By adolescence, I had built walls so high around me no one could enter in,” she said. “By 14, I was addicted to heroin. Every injection took me to a place where nothing mattered.”
When she was 17, she found out she was pregnant while she was in jail.
“I cried hard and long until it became clear that I had to become responsible for this life within me.”
But it wasn't so simple. Morning Sky Woman suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the man with whom she went on to have two children.
Shortly after her second child was born, her mother died at the age of 40 from liver and kidney failure.
“She drank herself to death,” she said.
While Morning Sky Woman eventually left her husband, she began drinking heavily herself as soon as her children were in school.
One night, she hit rock bottom.
“With a razor held to my arm, I cut deep and hard, and watched as the blood – as my pain – dripped to the floor, again and again, until the inner flesh was visible to the eye, cold air touching my soul,” Morning Sky Woman said.
“This was my bottom. I could not go any further. There was no strength to go on.”
Her children were removed from her care that night and went to live with her aunt. It took two years for her to get them back home with her, during which time she began to heal her spirit.
“You see, we all have a fire within, and it is always burning,” Morning Sky Woman said.
“For some it burns so low that it is just embers, but it is always there. I am a survivor and I live today for a reason.
“My heart is heavy tonight for my Anishnaabe sisters, for my pale and dark-skinned sisters, for those who were unable to rekindle their own fire within, and for those whose lives ended or were taken before they had the chance to.”