Activists, friends gathered in Cabot Square to remember Siasi Tullaugak and Sharon Barron
A candlelight vigil was held in Cabot Square on Friday evening to commemorate the deaths of two Inuit women who had been living in Montreal.
Roughly 150 people gathered to mourn the passing of Siasi Tullaugak and Sharon Barron, both 27 years old. Speeches were given by activists and locals who knew the women.
According to the Montreal Gazette, the women’s bodies were found two days apart, on Aug. 28 and 30. While Montreal police are treating both cases as suicides, many in the community are suspicious of the causes of death.
Nakuset Sohkisiwin, the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, was the vigil’s lead organizer. “Many come to this city for a better life,” she said. “So we are here for Siasi and Sharon who came to the city thinking that they would find something better.”
According to the Montreal Gazette, both the women were from northern Quebec communities, Tullaugak from Puvirnituq and Barron from Kangiqsualujjuaq.
“[Barron] had a good spirit,” said David Chapman, the director of the multi-service homeless shelter the Open Door. “She would come in and give you a big hug, and you could see a kind of real liveliness in her face.”
“In the last year, she had moved to Dorval and was trying to make a break from life on the street,” he added.
As for Tullaugak, Chapman described her as “feisty.”
“She would not take flak from anyone,” he said. “She had a really strong spirit about her.”
Sohkisiwin said she was pleased with the turnout, given the vigil was organized on such short notice. “It was definitely needed,” she said. “A lot of times, when women go missing or they pass away, there’s no space for people to express themselves.”
Among those at the vigil was Concordia student George Lenser. He volunteers at the Roundhouse Café in Cabot Square and said, while he didn’t know the women personally, he had seen them around. “The majority of the community strongly believes it was not suicide,” he said.
According to Lenser, Cabot Square has been frequented by homeless Indigenous women for years. He said when the nearby children’s hospital was still operational, families from out of town who couldn’t afford accommodation would sleep in the park while their children received treatment.
Lenser and Sohkisiwin both expressed a lack of faith in the ability of governments at any level to instigate change for missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Nonetheless, Open Door intervention worker Jean-François Tessier tried to offer a positive message to those gathered. “I know it can feel hopeless out here, and it can feel like no one cares about you,” he said during the vigil. “But one thing I would hope that everyone who’s trapped in the streets out here can take away from this is that you are loved. There are people who care about you, and your life does matter, no matter how it may feel.”