ST. PAUL - On Wednesday afternoon, a red broadcloth was draped over a newly installed statue, located east of the Mannawanis Native Friendship Centre, not far from a new sweat lodge that has been built on the site.
In near -30C weather, a group gathered for the official unveiling of the monument. It was an occasion filled with emotion and grief.
The statue, gifted by Saddle Lake sculpture Stewart Steinhauer, once stood in his wife's garden, but has found a new home with the purpose of honouring Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
While the monument is a testament to the many lives taken too soon, four specific names printed on the plaque near the bottom of the piece bring the issue to a much more personal and local level.
Rebecca. Kimberly. Lindsay. Rachel. Four women with extensive and intimate ties to the area.
Rebecca Hunter was the victim of homicide in 2019. Murder charges in connection to her death were laid in the summer 2020.
Kimberly Cardinal went missing in April of 2019. Second degree murder charges were laid in 2020, in relation to her death.
Lindsay Jackson died in 2018. She was found in the North Saskatchewan River, not far from the Duvernay bridge. Earlier this year, two people were found guilty in relation to her death, while a third was found not guilty.
Rachel Quinney, who was just 19 years old, was found dead in 2004. A man accused of her murder was acquitted four years later.
Each of the young women were loved by their families.
Program director at the Mannawanis Native Friendship Centre, Dennis Steinhauer, spoke to the small crowd that had gathered on Wednesday, speaking to the loss of "our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our aunties, our friends." He noted the losses are not specific to just women, but also men who are taken by violence.
"As Indigenous people, we've been struggling for centuries, and we continue to struggle because the impacts that have been placed upon us through government systems that were designed to basically wipe us out," said Steinhauer. "Today, we're here to acknowledge those losses."
He explained that work has been taking place since 2019 when funds were secured to do work around MMIWG. That work started by lifting the sacred pipe to ensure everything that was done was done in a good way, explained Steinhauer.
"This is one of the final pieces," he added. The monument will be a permanent fixture at the centre. The intention is to create a space for healing. The vision for the specific area is to be a healing grounds.
"We're really, really happy that we were able to do all the work necessary to ensure that we can do this healing work collectively, with this community... We want the community to be involved in this healing journey," said Steinhauer.
Families members of Rebecca, Kimberly, Lindsay and Rachel were invited to take part in the unveiling, and were asked to lift the red broadcloth from the monument. After the monument was unveiled, the family members also placed their hands on the stone sculpture, and Steinhauer encouraged them to "breath in that positive energy."
He also reminded those in attendance that it is important to always honour all women.
"The woman is the closest being to the Creator because the woman can also create life."
A video has also been created, with families telling the story of some of the women who have been murdered. While the video has not yet been made public, work is being done to make that a possibility.