Vigil honors Indigenous women struck down by domestic violence

Staff from the Puyallup Tribe’s Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program (CDVAP) drum and sing songs that touched the heart. photo by Matt Nagle

By Matt Nagle

The Puyallup Tribe’s Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program (CDVAP) hosted its 16th annual Candlelight vigil and healing drum circle on Oct. 11, honoring all people who have been touched by domestic violence. Gathering at Fireman’s Park in downtown Tacoma, the crowd stood in the autumn cold and occasional light rain but there was so much love shared to keep everyone warm on the inside. In fact, intermittent rainbows appeared in the sky as the sun moved behind the clouds, offering a gentle reminder of the Creator’s presence among the living and those in the spirit world who were being honored that evening, a healing moment in time for those who grieve for beloved women, girls and men they have known. Three deceased women of the Puyallup Tribe were honored: Lenor lee Davis Lawrence, Lillie Aline Squege Finley and Leona LeClair Kinsey, mother of CDVAP Senior Administrative Assistant Carolyn DeFord, who has been missing since Oct. 25, 1999.

Standing quietly together to one side of the park were nine silent witnesses representing women and girls in the community who have lost their lives due to domestic violence. These wooden cut-out silhouettes provided a beautiful and inspired way to bring these women and girls into the world as real people and not just a name on a list of the deceased or missing. On some of the silhouettes were stories printed on paper to tell what happened to certain women so that their truth is known and not forgotten.

“It’s really lovely to come share and reflect and it’s really a beautiful location,” said CDVAP Domestic Violence Outreach Advocate Uzuri Hilyard. The spirit of the event, she said, is “to get everyone together to honor those who they’ve known and miss – a time to heal, reflect and hold each other up.”

CDVAP Director Billie Barnes said that this annual event began thanks to the late Puyallup tribal member Wayne Cantrell, who proposed the idea to her as a way to give back in remembrance of those who have been harmed. The drum that was played that night was also a gift of Wayne Cantrell’s, and its sound was like no other. Billie Barnes noted the women being honored that night who had been through the Puyallup Tribe’s CDVAP program.

“There have been so many who have been in my office or in my car who I have held,” she said.

Barnes sat at the drum as other women joined her to sing songs of healing and hope, and it was a special treat to hear women’s voices singing such powerful prayers. CDVAP staff brought additional gifts to share with the crowd as well: special memory beads to honor the 16th year of the vigil; small pouches of tobacco to smoke while praying to send messages to the spirit world through the rising smoke or to hang in the car or home to attract health and protection for your family; and purple feather and ribbon pins attached to a card that read, “Please help battered women gather the feathers for their wings by offering this feather as a symbol of your support.”

Before candles were lit toward the close of the vigil, CDVAP staff stepped forth to read the stories of several women, which appear among the photos accompanying this article.

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