Justice stems from decolonization
C/O Wenzdae Dimaline
cw: sexual assault
SACHA brings the community together online to take back the night on stolen land
Every year, the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton holds an event known as Take Back the Night. SACHA is a feminist, non-profit, community-based organization that raises awareness regarding sexual assault and provides support for people who have experienced sexual violence.
At Take Back the Night, community members gather together to walk an hour-long march to show solidarity for ending sexual violence in front of the Hamilton City Hall. Aside from the march, Take Back the Night also involves other solidarity events that people can join in on.
This year, for their 40th anniversary, Take Back the Night had a unique theme — Taking Back the Night on Stolen Land.
Bringing the focus on Indigenous women, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse people, this year’s theme aims to raise awareness of how colonization leads to sexual violence, gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
“The theme we hope will be a reminder to people that all justice work must be rooted in decolonization and Indigenous sovereignty,” stated SACHA’s announcement.
“Take Back the Night has always been about taking up and reclaiming space but when we take to the streets and take up space we have to remember we are taking up space on stolen Indigenous land that has been the land of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabek peoples for long before colonization.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Take Back the Night event was conducted online. On Sept. 16, SACHA posted a YouTube video for the main event, including a variety of clips from Indigenous women, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse performers, artists, musicians, poets and singers.
The virtual event kicks off with an impactful clip of community members holding signs saying things such as, “We have the power. We have the might. These lands are Indigenous. Take back the night” and “Claim our bodies. Claim our right. Take a stand. Take back the night” while shouting loud and clear, “Taking back the night on stolen land. We believe survivors.”
Following a land acknowledgement and theme introduction, Jessica Bonilla-Damptey, Director of SACHA, provided an overview of the 40-year history behind Take Back the Night.
Two different honour songs sung by Indigenous folks were then played. The first song was sung by Nicole Jones from Mississauga of the Credit First Nations to honour women, girls and Two-Spirited folks. The second song was sung by Jordan Carrier who is Plains Cree to honour the water.
Next, the Red Dress Project was discussed. The project involves red dresses hung up on tress and across cities each year to draw attention to the issue of countless Indigenous women being missing or murdered across the country.
Tristan, a Two-Spirited Indigenous community member, explained the significance behind the red dresses.
“Their colour symbolizes the emotion, the anger and the rage we feel — the blood of these built women and our connection to them. Over 4000 women are missing in Canada and the RCMP reports maybe less than a quarter of that. But these aren’t just statistics, these are people. These are mothers and aunties and sisters who supported us and took care of us and now they’re gone. Missing or murdered and nobody’s looking for them,” said Tristan.
Tristan explained his frustration with the lack of awareness non-Indigenous people have of the issue.
“That’s just how things were growing up and continued to be. And now I’m hearing people start to realize what’s going on that aren’t a part of this community with this shock. And I get surprised when I feel my own shock when I think how did you not realize this was happening? How did you not realize that I show up with somebody one day and they’re gone the next? And that’s just another number missing,” said Tristan.
By the half-way mark of the online event, SACHA pieced together a multitude of messages from community members dedicated to Indigenous youth.
Reading their messages, each person reminded Indigenous youth of their value, “Dear Indigenous youth, you are loved. Dear Indigenous youth, you bring so much joy and brightness into the world and you have my thanks for being wonderfully you. Dear Indigneous youth, you don’t have to look or sound a certain way to be Two-Spirited. You are who you are. End of story.”
Finally, before closing off the event, Joan, co-chair of Sisters in Spirit, an organization that works to educate the public about missing and murdered Indigenous women, addressed the Red Ribbon Skirt Project.
The project involves sewing skirts for the members of the families and marching every year on May 5th to raise awareness. Joan touched on the impact that the project has and what it means for the families of the missing women.
“The families really need to have the support and they need to have the acknowledgement that they have’t been forgotten...It’s not just one day that people go missing. It’s everyday,” said Joan.
As a closing honour song, singers and dancers from a performance group known as Spirit Vision performed a song called Red Dress. The song holds a message saying that Indigenous men need to protect Indigenous women from further harm.
Take Back the Night is more than just about showing solidarity against sexual violence. At it’s core, it is an event that brings together the community, reminds people that they are not alone and brings to light issues that are too often dismissed. This year, even without an in-person rally, the community found its own ways to remind all of us — there is still work to be done.