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Candlelight vigil raising awareness

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A candlelight vigil was held Thursday evening at Knox United Church here to pay tribute to the tragic deaths of two local women who died 18 years ago at the hands of gender-based violence.

Since the deaths of Melani Sutton and Deanna Daw in 2000, an event has been held in the community on Dec. 6, which falls on the “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.”

The event is meant to raise awareness about domestic violence locally, as well as to pay respect to those who died or have been affected by gender-based violence.

Event organizer Peggy Loyie is close friends with Sutton's mother and when the two tragedies took place in the same year, she said, “I just felt like we had to do something.”

“We couldn't just let it happen and not acknowledge it in some way,” she remarked.

Loyie then came across Dec. 6 as a day for remembrance and after hearing about how it honours the 14 women who were murdered at the École Polytechnique de Montreal in 1989, she felt it was a fitting day to raise awareness.

“We started doing it at the courthouse, just gathering in the front," she recalled. ”We did that for the first few years . . . and then the people from the Knox United Church called and invited us in to use their sanctuary.

“Since then, we've gained more [momentum]," Loyie added. "It's become bigger and bigger.”

But as the event has gained traction, the community also has suffered more losses.

“It's not over so we have to keep doing this,” Loyie said.

“We have to keep raising awareness, we have to keep talking about it," she stressed. "We have to keep encouraging people to do what they need to do in their own lives to put a stop to the violence.”

The candlelight vigil featured the Waabishkiibinesii women singers, who performed healing songs with hand drums, a survivor story from a women who endured domestic violence for several years, songs, and prayers.

At the end of the ceremony, a slideshow was played showing all of the women from the community who have died because of gender-based violence

“It's a huge issue in our community,” Loyie remarked.

Fortunately, she said it seems like the ceremony has been successful in spreading their message.

“I think we have raised awareness," she noted. ”There's a lot more programs now that are available to people.

“We get a lot of community support, some years more, some years less, but we have a pretty consistent base for our gathering each year,” she added.

To combat the issue, Loyie is urging people to make a change in their own life and reach out if experiencing gender-based violence.

“People need to speak up, they need to do something, they need to intervene,” she stressed.

Those experiencing domestic violence can seek refuge at the Rainy River District Shelter of Hope in Atikokan, which can be reached by calling 1-807-597-2868.

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