A new monument set for the Prince Albert river bank is set to be a reminder of the many Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as well as a spot for families to come and pray.
Representatives from the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC), city police and PAGC women’s commission were joined by local politicians to break ground on the monument, which is expected to be in place by next May.
The monument will be located on the riverbank at the foot of First Ave. East, prominently visible from River Street and the Diefenbaker Bridge. A rectangle painted onto the ground at the site of Wednesday’s sodturning ceremony measured about 25 feet by 12.5 feet.
“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a number of years, to have a monument to represent our missing and murdered Indigenous women,” said women’s commission chair Shirley Henderson.
The monument itself will represent the women gone missing and depict two children and a grandmother, ‘because it affects the whole family when a mother goes missing,” Henderson said. “It’s going to represent everybody.”
In addition to representing those who are missing, the monument will be a place families can come to burn sweetgrass and say their prayers, Henderson said.
“I think it will mean a lot. They’ll come here and say their prayers for the person who has gone missing or who has been missing and found. It will be a place for them to pray and hopefully bring a bit of closure to themselves.”
The monument is being designed by a First Nations artist from Regina. The funding was obtained by the PAGC from money set aside for recognition by the federal government as part of the response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The site was chosen a few weeks ago and presented to city council, who passed it unanimously in just five minutes.
PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said the monument serves a few purposes.
“This monument will be … a place of comfort for the families. A place of comfort for all the people in the community. It’s visible. You can see all the vehicles driving by — when they come across that bridge they will see this sit. They will look at this site. It’s important, being so visible. This was the centre of Prince Albert here in the history of this community because of the river. Our people have always been beside rivers because water is life and water is sacred.”
Hardlotte wasn’t the only one to tie the monument’s importance to that of water.
“Mother Earth gives life. Our mothers give life. Water is such a beautiful thing. When you see water, you see life,” said PAGC vice chief Chris Jobb.
“Our mothers are the foundation of life. When you lose a loved one, especially a female, there’s so much life that is lost. that foundation is no longer there. It’s up to the aunties and grandmothers to hold that foundation when we lose a loved one.”
Jobb said everyone standing at the monument’s ground has a story to tell.
“Someway, somehow, it’s affected us,” he said.
“All the mothers and sisters we have lost, and the grandmothers, that’s a story that needs to be told over and over again.”
Hardlotte, Jobb and PAGC vice chief Joseph Tsannie spoke about the racism still experienced by so many Indigenous people, and the importance of advancing reconciliation and building understanding amongst peoples
That’s the other role the monument will serve, Hardlotte said.
“It’s a constant thing, the education and awareness has to be there,” he said.
“A lot of people may not understand the importance of truth and reconciliation and the call to action. It’s sad that family members are still out there, but we’re doing this for those families and those missing their loved ones. We’re doing this for them. With your help, hopefully, this is a positive story, this important story about our women, our girls. I ask our media to do a good story so the province can hear us all with the ceremony we’re about to do.”
That challenge is faced across Canada, Hardlotte said.
“When there’s a missing person, there is no closure.”
He talked about families that are still looking for their loved ones, such as the families of Happy Charles and Ashley Morin.
“Those families are calling on the women’s commission, calling on the PAGC, calling on the police to continue to keep the files open, but more importantly, active,” he said.
“Listen to these families,” he said.
“This monument will represent that these files are open and active. It would mean that for the families that have no closure yet, can pray at this monument for all the women that are still missing.
“It will stand here at the riverbank forever.”