On February 14, over 200 people gathered at the St. Laurent metro station at 3 p.m. for the seventh annual Memorial March to Honour the Lives of Missing and Murdered Women in Montreal. This march serves to raise awareness for and commemorate all missing and murdered women, but places special emphasis on the systemic violence that disproportionately targets Indigenous women.
Given the extremely cold weather, the event was cut short, with the marchers walking up St. Laurent from the metro station, stopping for a few moments by the mural near St. Laurent and Ontario street that honours missing and murdered Indigenous women, and ending at the intersection of St. Laurent and Sherbrooke.
The march began in 1991 in Vancouver, initially as a response to the murder of a Coast Salish woman and in protest of the lack of response from media and police. A 2014 RCMP report revealed nearly 1,200 documented cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women as of 2013, although some Indigenous activists estimate the real number of cases to be closer to 3,000. Further, a 2015 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women were five times more likely to die under violent circumstances than young non-Indigenous women. Recent allegations in Val-d’Or which have pointed to Sûreté du Québec police officers abusing Indigenous women sexually and physically were also highlighted during the march.
“The women are marching, and continue to march, missing or murdered, alive or vibrant, and we have to join them to bring peace to those who have not found it […] and who need to never be forgotten.”
The march began with speeches from organizers, as well as a performance by the pow-wow drum group the Buffalo Hat Singers.
“Today we honour Indigenous women, two-spirit and trans women, including trans women of colour, immigrant, refugee, and non-status women, sex workers, and all women who’ve been murdered or have gone missing. We remember and continue to demand justice,” one of the organizers told the crowd.
The marchers walked on St. Laurent quietly to the sound of drums, holding signs that said “Not forgotten” and “Police, do your job.”
Red dresses were hung on tree branches and from fences along the route of the march, inspired by Métis artist Jaime Black’s REDress project, an art series of 600 red dresses installed in public spaces across Canada drawing attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“Today, I want to pray again, in thinking about all of the missing and murdered Indigenous women,” Innu slam poet, activist, and environmentalist Natasha Kanapé Fontaine told the attendees in French before the march began.
“As you walk […] feel the spirits of the Indigenous women who walk on this earth, who do not have peace or who have it but hope to bring it to others. […] The women are marching, and continue to march, missing or murdered, alive or vibrant, and we have to join them to bring peace to those who have not found it […] and who need to never be forgotten,” Fontaine continued.