Marchers fight violence with chants, candles

“So many have been hurt, so that it shocks us, and we’ve become numb”



A procession of flickering lights snaked through Iqaluit’s grittier, worn-down neighbourhoods last Thursday, Oct. 14, during the annual Take Back the Night march.

Within the crowd of about 200, children gripped candles and adults led chants that shared a common theme: stop violence against women.

Participants first met behind the eight-story building and then climbed down the hill past White Row housing.

At the Ring Road, sirens from police and bylaw vehicles whooped as they diverted traffic and escorted the march through a meandering loop, towards the graveyard and back past the courthouse. The final destination was the parish hall, which was filled to capacity and left some standing outside.

“So many have been hurt, so that it shocks us, and we’ve become numb,” said Rev. Mike Gardner as he began an opening prayer.

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The event wasn’t all downbeat, with CBC host Joanna Awa, the master of ceremonies, at one point asking the crowd to relight their candles and sing her a happy birthday song before blowing them out in unison.

But it did have one somber moment, when Annie Onalik from the women’s shelter shared a personal story of abuse and loss.

“I told my husband to stop, but he still wasn’t listening. I had to stop it myself,” she said. “The drinking has stopped, but I’m still trying to help his kids.

“Alcohol has destroyed a lot of people. I even lost my son.”

The high proportion of children in the crowd also served to remind her how domestic violence affects the next generation. “Kids see the violence, and it needs to stop, because we care a lot about our kids,” Onalik said.

The event had a greater turn-out than last year, said organizers.

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Events like Take Back the Night offer the promise of shaking the taboo of talking about domestic abuse, said Elisapee Sheutiapik, Iqaluit’s mayor.

“In the past, it was all in the closet,” Sheutiapik said.

Most of the phone calls that police respond to involve violence inside the home, said Cst. Wilf Jephson.

The event did overshadow another cause. Last week was Fire Safety Week, but that didn’t stop scores of tiny children stomping around the Parish Hall with lit candles in their hands. Organizers urged control, while Gardner could almost be seen saying a quiet prayer to himself.

Similar marches were held in Cambridge Bay, where bad weather delayed the event to Wednesday, October 19, and in Baker Lake, where a march was scheduled for Oct. 20.

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