Thousands participated in Valentine’s Day actions and marches across Canada to demand justice for missing and murdered Aboriginal women and to build a safer future for their surviving sisters.
For the past 22 years the Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women has been held on February 14. According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, over 600 Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered since 1980. The Amnesty International report “No More Stolen Sisters” estimated that Aboriginal women are five to seven times more likely to die of violence than non-Aboriginals.
This year, the march followed a report alleging systemic sexual attacks and abuses by RCMP officers against Aboriginal women and girls in northern British Columbia. Released by Human Rights Watch on February 13, it released details of shocking abuses unearthed during the organization’s investigation into the lack of action on missing and murdered Aboriginal women along British Columbia’s infamous Highway of Tears.
Missing Justice, CKUT radio and Concordia University’s Centre for Gender Advocacy organized the Montreal event with support from the Idle No More movement. Over 700 marchers gathered at the St. Laurent metro station, where speakers voiced their anger at the injustice facing missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
“We want action! And we want action now!” said Bridget Tolley as she addressed the crowd. She came to demand justice for her mother, Gladys Tolley, who was struck and killed by a Quebec police cruiser on October 5, 2001. “I want an independent investigation into my mother’s death. We want all our missing sisters found. We want the cases that are unsolved, solved.”
Katsisakwas Ellen Gabriel has fought for Indigenous rights since the 1990 Oka Crisis erupted in her community of Kanesetake. “Tonight is a night to remember our sisters who have been murdered and assassinated,” Gabriel told the crowd. “It isn’t 500 women, 600 women, 800 women, it’s millions. Since the time of contact, it’s been about economics. It’s been about a land grab. And the best way to destroy a nation, a nation that lives sustainably on Mother Earth, was to attack the women.”
A powerful performance by the Reproductive Justice League Choir galvanized the crowd as many joined in on the singing.
The largest of the marches took place in Vancouver, where the event began in a commemoration for a Coast Salish woman murdered in the city’s Downtown Eastside. Over 2,000 participants gathered this year to remember the many others who fell victim to violence that received next to no attention from Canadian authorities.
Despite the growing outcry against the injustices facing Aboriginal women, ongoing abuses demonstrate that the struggle must continue. At the very least, the annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women ensures that our fallen sisters will not be forgotten.