Thursday, June 20, the Gabriel family attended North Memorial School's unveiling of a Memory Bench in Portage la Prairie. It's in honour of Rocelyn Gabriel, one of the missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls who passed away after she was found in the midst of a blizzard at the Portage Recycling Depot on January 26.

Principal Valerie Smith said it was an emotional presentation with Mayor Sharilyn Knox on hand, as all the students were outside in front of the school watching. 

"We feel very honoured that the Gabriel family chose to recognize and remember their daughter at our playground so that we stood in solidarity as a community together. That bench will always be remembered as Rocelyn's bench, but it will also be a reminder for all the other women, daughters, and girls that we have lost in our community. And as the mayor said, it's a wake-up call for us to embrace our community more, teach them more skills, and keep everyone safe."

Smith says the Gabriel family came up with the idea and approached her and the School Division to see if they could place such a memorial bench.

"Of course, we recognize the significance of it and we welcomed it with open arms. The Gabriels have been part of our community for at least over 25 years. I was honoured enough to be part of it as I was Rocelyn's teacher here in Grade 3."

She adds an Indigenous Feast took place after the presentation, and although the memorial was a somber occasion in its way, she notes it's also a celebration of the awareness that Rocelyn has brought to the significance of it. 

"So, we felt, with the family's approval, that we would share today's event in the front as a commemorative thing for a respectful celebration, and without any disrespect, go and celebrate the diversity of all of us, and share in our community event that we host and have our annual Feast."

Joyce Gabriel is Rocelyn's mother and spoke at the presentation, extending her thanks for the opportunity to place the bench on the school property. 

"It's an honour to finally have something in memory of her here. I'm glad it's here because this is the school where she graduated from. Now all our grandkids are here. So, it's so nice. So many people came and I'm glad for the MKO (Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak) helping us out too. "

Olivia Gabriel is Rocelyn's sister who says, in a way, it brings a good feeling.

"It's especially good in front of all our children here at North Memorial School. It's a good feeling because my sister cared about the children here. We were all here at North Memorial; all of us and she loved children. She was supposed to get into working with children right after high school. It's a good feeling, especially in front of a school that we all went to. I just want to acknowledge the missing and murdered Indigenous women, men and two-spirited. I know it's a crisis." 

Mayor Sharilyn Knox adds memorials like these are important for not only families to be able to honour their lost loved ones, but also to bring awareness to murdered and missing Indigenous women.

"We know it's a crisis in our country and we want to bring awareness in our community because we need to be able to teach our children safety, danger, and all of those things. But yet we all want to strive for Portage Prairie to be a safe place."