Sarah Petrescu / Times Colonist
Esther Morris sat against the conference room wall in tears as dozens of men in small groups shared their experiences of violence and their pledges to protect women and children.
“It was so empowering to see you all so engaged,” she later told the crowd gathered at the Hotel Grand Pacific Thursday for the third annual Moosehide campaign to end violence against aboriginal women and children.
Morris, a single mother of three from the Tsarlip First Nation, came to the event as a survivor of abuse and a witness to the men promising to end the cycle of violence. Among the men, from different generations and cultures, was her teenage son.
“I wanted him to understand,” Morris said. “Abuse damages your soul. I don’t want my kids to see that in their lives.”
At the event, organized by the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, men wore moosehide pinned over their hearts and several fasted for one day in solidarity with the cause.
“All of us in this room love our mothers, our sisters and our daughters,” said executive director Paul Lacerte, noting that aboriginal women are five times more likely to experience violence than non-aboriginal women. They are also five times more likely to be murdered. More than 800 aboriginal women in Canada have been missing or murdered since 1990.
“I carry an incredible sadness in my heart to know how much suffering there has been for women in our community,” Lacerte said. Participants came from as far away as Prince George and included local chiefs, RCMP officers and politicians.
“It’s important for me and my colleagues to participate,” said MLA John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
“Personally, when I think of violence I think there needs to be a light on it to understand ... only through that will we make a change.”
After a morning of speeches and healing circles, men with drums led the group towards the legislature for a public demonstration of their pledge to end violence against aboriginal women.
At the legislature steps, 22-year-old Sheldon Henderson was among those who took to the microphone to share a few words about the day’s experience.
“I’ve seen it all, all abuse. I’ve been abused by my father. I understand the pain that women and children are going through,” he said. “As a young man here today, I’m going to break that cycle.” -