Around 250 people gathered outside the St. Laurent metro station on Thursday for the march for missing and murdered Indigenous women. The march, organized by Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a working group of the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, is part of a nationwide movement that has been active since 1991.
According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, approximately 600 Indigenous women have been murdered or found missing within the last three decades in Canada. 2110 Centre Programming and Campaigns Coordinator Bianca Mugyenyi told The Daily in October that proportionally, this number is huge.
“[If you] extrapolated that [number] to the general Canadian population, even just with 583 cases, that would be the equivalent of 20,000 people that had gone missing. That would be all over the news – 20,000 women missing, it’s an epidemic, right?” she said.
Mugyenyi said that Indigenous activists put the number of murdered women closer to 3,000. She said the discrepancy could be attributed to incomplete police records.
Amnesty International Canada reports that Indigenous women in Canada are five to seven times more likely to die of violence than their non-Indigenous counterparts, but that the majority of these cases go unreported.
The march, which had a higher turnout than previous years, began at the corner of St. Laurent and Maisonneuve with a series of speakers and performances, including the Buffalo Hat Singers, a group of contemporary pow wow drummers.
Melissa Dupuis, a representative of Idle No More, Quebec, noted during the opening ceremony that the government was not doing enough to deal with the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“Harper needs to understand there is an ongoing crisis in the Canadian territory where basic human rights are being neglected and taken away,” she said.
On February 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international human rights group, released a damning report denouncing a lack of action by the government. The report included testimonies from over fifty Indigenous women who had been roughed up, strip-searched, Tasered, pepper-sprayed, raped, and threatened with death at the hands of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in British Columbia.
Despite public outrage, the Conservative government has so far been dismissive of the findings. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was reported in multiple news outlets to have said that anyone experiencing abuse should go to “the appropriate police so they can investigate.” They should “just get on and do it,” he said.
The Human Rights Watch report is the latest in a string of non-governmental initiatives to address the systematic abuse of Indigenous women.
Online hacker group Anonymous released a map on February 5 that traces missing and murdered Indigenous women. The map, which uses public data from police crime maps, allows people to fill in gaps in formal information by anonymously reporting cases.
Nina Sigalwoitz, a caseworker at Chez Doris, a women’s shelter in Montreal, spoke at the march about her experience giving workshops at Montreal schools. That morning, she had witnessed a complete lack of awareness among students when she discussed her experience as an Indigenous woman.
“These students didn’t even know that Indigenous people exist! They thought there weren’t any in Quebec,” she said to the assembled crowd.
Mirha-Soleil Ross, a representative from Action santé tranvesti(e)s et transsexuel(le)s du Quebec (ASTT(e)Q), was also invited to speak. Ross gave a speech on her experience as a trans* Indigenous person, explaining how reports about missing Indigenous women are suppressed by people in positions of privilege and power.
Prominent Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel was last to speak before the march began. Gabriel pointed at authority figures as facilitators who perpetuate racist ideologies toward Indigenous people. She noted the pressing need for educational reform that fully acknowledges the Indigenous history of Canada.
Gabriel called for an end to the ongoing colonialism, which she feels is currently put forth by the Harper government and sustained by corporations.
“These tyrants do what they need to do to make a profit. They answer to companies, profit making oil companies, and ignore their people,” she said.
Once the march got underway, it wended its way up St. Laurent, ending at the Parc des Amériques on the corner of Rachel and St. Laurent. The evening closed with musical and spoken word performances, and a closing prayer by Indigenous leader John Cree.