Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Memorial March
How is everyone doing? Well this weekend is for most people Valentine’s day weekend! A weekend to be with your valentine and the ones you love. And it is for me too but I am choosing to spend this weekend giving some love to those who have gone in the spirit world and had their earth time stolen from them. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. To learn more, read my two previous articles here and here.
If you live in Canada, you must have heard about this issue, with a national inquiry put in place to investigate the disappearance of over 1200 Indigenous women. “Issue” does not even seem like the right word. A tragedy, a huge injustice and a cause that we ALL need to know about is more like it. So this weekend is the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Memorial March. It is taking place in a few cities in Canada, including in Vancouver, a block away from my office. In a neighborhood known as the “downtown eastside (DTES)”, the “Skidrow” of Canada. A place I can honestly say I feel very comfortable in, as weird as it might seem. I talk to people on the streets all the time. And each day I am amazed by the humanity of the people down there and the care they show. For me and for others. Don’t get me wrong, I get yelled at every day but I also laugh with clients every day. And have very sweet conversations. So without further ado, let’s talk about this annual march and other projects in place to remember and honor the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).
The story behind the march
So you might be asking yourself, why is a march necessary? Well good question! The march is a necessity to remember and honor all the Indigenous women who went missing or were murdered. Notice that I did not say died. I said “murdered”. Because over the past 20 years, it is estimated that over 500 to 600 Indigenous women went missing or were murdered. As I stated in a previous article, it is a lot. Roughly one woman every 2 weeks. Every single year. And many of those murders or disappearances have not been solved. Why? Well because we need to rally more for those murders and disappearances to be noticed! It is with a heavy heart that I say that most of those women were “chosen” because they were isolated. They were “easy targets”. Because it was thought that no one would notice they were missing. But hell no! People are noticing.
In BC, Canada, a case that shocked the country and repulsed many, was the “Robert Pickton case”. A man sentenced to life for murdering numerous women from the DTES. Many of them sex-trade workers. The women were found buried in pieces on his pig farm east of Vancouver. That case alone shook the DTES. It was like a bomb went off. The community was shattered. Because it is a community, it is a family. And those women were part of it, they were sisters, aunts, nieces, mothers and cousins. Blood related or not. And many of them were Indigenous women. Pickton was finally brought to court and convicted but the repercussions are still felt. And those who worked on that case will forever be affected.
And unfortunately, that is just part of the situation. Every year, Aboriginal women continue to go missing. In my work, I know that if I have not heard from a client in a few weeks, I get worried. I start calling hospitals and the police because it is just a very real reality. The women go missing. In the DTES, on the Highway of Tears or across Canada. Which bring us to the annual march.
How did the march begin?
The Women’s Memorial March committee was founded in 1991 following the death of a Coast Salish on Powell street, literally the street behind my office in the DTES (which is on Unceded Coast Salish territory). The woman had been murdered. Her name is not mentioned out of respect for her family. The Committee has a commitment to end violence against all women, especially the vulnerable women of the DTES. The march is a symbol of that commitment. And their commitment is a strong and dedicated one as the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women continues to go up. It takes courage to tackle an issue that has been swept under the rug for years by our government. Although it might change with our current prime minister, who seems sincere in his efforts to help the MMIW and their families and loved ones who are left hurting.
Because an incredible void is left by those missing women. Grief and loss is experienced by the ones left behind. As well as anger and impatience. As things need to change. Throughout the years, tribes were often led by the women. Clans were matriarchal. And now where do we go without the strong women to lead??
The march does take place in different cities including Montreal. In the DTES, it is led by strong Indigenous women, the warriors, the lifegivers. The families lead followed by the Elders then the drummers. And those who walk stop at places where women were murdered or last seen to offer prayers, medicine (such as sage or juniper) or flowers. To honor them. To say “we are here and we remember you. You will always be in our heart!”A red rose is left for the murdered women and a yellow rose is left for the missing women.
I am getting emotional writing this because I feel such pain in my heart and spirit when I think
and talk about the MMIW. I have seen the struggles of the Aboriginal people in my work in jails and now I see it in my clients and the DTES family every day. Violence against women has to stop. Our women need to be safe. They need to make it home, wherever home is, every night. They deserve that. As they are the leaders of our communities. We as women are powerhouses but we also need our male warriors to stand behind us. And to join us in stopping the violence.
Other related projects
I am happy to see that other cities have joined in the march. The city of Montreal, QC is in its 7th year of the Memorial march, starting simultaneously with the one in Vancouver. You can see pictures and videos of the previous years on this great website called Missing Justice.
Another great project that you might be aware of is the Red Dress Project. I will refer you to the website for detailed information but here is a summary of the project. The project uses red dresses to symbolize and bring attention to the more than 1000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Jaime Black, the artist, wishes to visually represent the women installing red dresses across certain cities such as Winnipeg. The dresses are there as a reminder of the inordinate number of MMIW in Canada. Because sometimes we need a visual to fully see it.
I get the visual every day when I go to work. And I got it today. Emotions were running high. Singing, drumming, honoring and respect. Thank you for those who were there and please join me next year. Today was more emotional than I thought. To see the signs with all the pictures of missing or murdered family members, to hear the drums, to smell the sage burning (thank you so much to those who brought some as I had forgotten mine!). As the Women’s Warrior song was sang at the beginning and throughout the march, my eyes welled up. Feeling the pain of those gone and those left behind. I started the walk toward the back but made my way to the front. As I needed to be with the drummers to sing loud. The only way to do it…
I leave you once again with the Women’s Warrior song, a song in honor of all the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. A song that gives me chills every single time. And today, brought tears to my eyes.
All my Relations