Annual August Memorial
A time to remember and reflect.
Each year in mid-August, we bear witness and we remember. Alberta Avenue Community Garden provides a welcoming and beautiful space to gather. Family and community members mourn the loss of those who have died as a consequence of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking: some were murdered, some died by suicide, some through addictions, and others through illnesses.
Names date back to 1969. Friends, family, and community workers add names each year. The names of 266 people were read in 2022, the 22nd year since CEASE (Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation) initiated this annual memorial. Sadly, we already have two more names to add to the list for the 2023 Memorial.
As people entered the community garden, they were offered a “tobacco tie” – a small pinch of ceremonial tobacco wrapped in cloth in memory of those who had died. They were also invited to tie a ribbon onto branches from a mountain ash tree (also known as rowan tree). The rowan tree is a symbol of protection, wisdom, and courage in Celtic mythology. The ribbons were in the four colours of the Medicine Wheel of the Cree people: Yellow (East), Red (South), Blue (West), and White (North).
This year, a separate branch was tied only in orange ribbons to remember all the children lost through the residential school system. After the names were read, there was a moment of silence for all lives lost to sexual exploitation and trafficking throughout the world. Then, the branches were lifted up to the sky to symbolize farewell and release of the spirits of those who have died. (We used to release balloons in the four colours, but, due to the environmental impact, we chose another symbol.)
August of 2022 marks the sad month in 1997 when Cara King, daughter of Kathy King, was missing. Her body was found in a farmer’s field east of Edmonton on September 1st. Her name and photo are now among the many on the MMIWG list. Her murder has not been solved. Kathy was a fierce advocate for her daughter when she was alive, and continued that advocacy and public awareness on behalf of all sexually exploited persons in the past 25 years since Cara was murdered. At the Memorial, we recognized both her loss and her advocacy. A surprise gift was offered by an Indigenous leader from Treaty 7 who attended for the first time. He bestowed a spirit name upon Kathy.
Kate Quinn is the Executive Director of CEASE. She lives in McCauley.