Hidden Edmonton avenue, Okîsikow (Angel) Way, honored with its own day

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The city has proclaimed June 14 as Okîsikow Way Day, in honor of an inner-city avenue that was renamed more than decade ago to recognize victims of domestic violence.

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An event was held last week during which Coun. Anne Stevenson, acting on behalf of Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, made the announcement.

Okîsikow Way, a stretch of road formerly known as 101A Avenue between 96 Street and 97 Street, was given its name exactly 11 years earlier using the Cree word for angel. The effort to raise awareness for victims of domestic violence followed a national movement started in Nunavut in 2007.

Stevenson made the calendar proclamation on a rainy Tuesday to a packed house at the Nook Cafe, near the western end of Okîsikow Way, where several community members including Karen Mackenzie addressed the audience.

MacKenzie recalled that there was rain, too, on the day the city launched the new name back in 2011.

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“Rain are the tears that had been shed for all of these women, gender-diverse families, and children that have been affected by domestic violence,” she said. “It’s among us. We talk about it and then we do nothing.”

Based on police data, Statistics Canada numbers show a rate of 288 victims of intimate partner violence per 100,000 people aged 15 and older in Edmonton in 2018 — 83 per cent of whom were female.

“Okîsikow Way honors all of these individuals who have suffered,” MacKenzie said. “And it also asks us as community members to honor them, to do something, and to know that these are our neighbours.”

She also used the moment to draw attention to the city’s placement of the westernmost sign, which stands almost hidden from the corner, several meters east of the 97 Street intersection.

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While delivering the proclamation, Stevenson said she would make a call “first thing” Wednesday morning to get the sign moved — a commitment that earned raucous applause from the audience.

More than just a traffic sign, the turquoise street blade is also a piece of art, featuring a fairy-like woman resting above the “angel” in the name.

The street blade for Okîsikow Way, formerly 101A Avenue between 96 Street and 97 Street, was designed by artist Gloria Neapetung.
The street blade for Okîsikow Way, formerly 101A Avenue between 96 Street and 97 Street, was designed by artist Gloria Neapetung. Photo by Hamdi Issawi /post media

It was designed by Gloria Neapetung, a member of Treaty 4 Yellow Quill First Nation who was born in Saskatchewan and lived in Edmonton before her death in 2016. Tuesday’s event also served as a celebration of her life and work.

Neapetung’s sister Sheri, from Prince Albert, Sask., traveled to Edmonton for the moment. She said her sibling de ella was probably thinking of young people living on the street and women subjected to violence when creating the design.

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“She thought that they were angels,” Sheri Neapetung said. “That they were of a higher power to endure such suffering and the circumstances behind their lifestyle.”

Her eyes welled with tears when reflecting on her sister, and the lasting impression her work will have in the city.

“She endured so much in her life, and it means so much for people to honor her for something she loved to do.”

A residential school survivor, Gloria dabbled with drawing in her youth, Sheri said, but blossomed as an artist later in life while she was incarcerated.

After a boyfriend fatally stabbed two men in Regina in 2004, Gloria pleaded guilty to an accessory after the fact and served nearly four years at the Edmonton Institution for Women, where she drew sketches and — at the prison’s request — painted murals inside the institution.

Even then, her work featured fairy-like creatures and women with butterfly wings.

“She found her outlet through art,” Sheri added, taking comfort in the thought that an angel of sorts is keeping vigil above passersby of Okîsikow Way.

—With files from Postmedia

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