On the evening of October 4, around 500 people gathered at Place Emilie Gamelin for the eleventh memorial march for missing and murdered Indigenous women. The march was organized by the Centre for Gender Advocacy, and aims to honour the missing and murdered women and raise awareness. It was also part of an effort to put pressure on the government to “deliver REAL systemic changes,” regarding the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, announced earlier this year, according to the event’s Facebook page.
The march began with a land acknowledgement, followed by an opening speech and prayer. The street along Emilie Gamelin Park was closed for the march and patrolled by the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). Indigenous attendees held candles and posters with pictures of missing and murdered family members, calling for a provincial inquiry into cases of abuse.
Cheryl McDonald, an attendee and member of the Kanehsatà:ke, told The Daily, “I lost a sister in 1988. [..] Her name was Carlene, and she was 25 years old. […] Unfortunately, we keep losing more sisters and brothers as well to the violence that exists, whether it’s on reserves or urban areas.”
McDonald has made several public appearances, and attended the pre-inquiry consultations on MMIW since the death of her sister.
“Unfortunately, we keep losing more sisters and brothers as well to the violence that exists, whether it’s on reserves or urban areas.”
“I think justice would mean that […] when [the government] announces the inquiry, that it really doesn’t go towards […] the bureaucracy,” McDonald said. “I think it should go to the families who are out there on their own dealing with the pain and the sorrow and investigating on their own where their family member is.”
“This can’t go to […] higher people who have no idea what is happening at the grassroots level. It has got to go directly to the families,” she went on to say.
McDonald also criticized the lack of government presence in grassroots events.
“I advocate […] for the leadership of our First Nation, or provincial government. They should be sitting here, [provincial, federal] chiefs and leaders. They should be attending these things. They should be calling families in,” McDonald stated. “We need more than lip service. We need them to start the conversation and I will be more than willing to go and speak.”
“This can’t go to […] higher people who have no idea what is happening at the grassroots level. It has got to go directly to the families.”
In an interview with The Daily, Timothy Armstrong, a political activist and Kahnawake radio host, emphasized the importance of awareness on missing and murdered Indigenous women issues.
“We need to bring this plight to the forefront. Everyone needs to know what is going on,” he said. “It’s all about awareness [..] to let these people [the victims’ family] know that we’re still looking for them, there are families that haven’t given up hope.”
He continued on to say that “no one gives up hope until someone is either found […] unfortunately alive or deceased. That’s when the search ends. Until then, […] they just keep looking. We need to keep that hope alive.”
“We need more than lip service. We need them to start the conversation and I will be more than willing to go and speak.”
When asked what justice meant for missing and murdered Indigenous women, Armstrong responded, “it means equality more than anything – that police don’t drag their feet when an aboriginal woman goes missing, because that’s what happens. When an aboriginal woman goes missing, unfortunately, they’re put very far down the list of priorities and that can’t happen. An aboriginal woman is just as important as any other woman.”
Olivia Sheehy-Gennarelli, an attendee and Public Affairs and Policy Studies student at Concordia University told The Daily that “it all trickles back into residential schooling, colonization, so definitely addressing those type of grassroots issues that have trickled into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous women [is important].”
“I think that justice […] essentially means […] calling on the marches, calling on the recommendations for the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission], making new recommendations, and raising awareness about these issues and making sure people know about what is happening,” she added.
“It’s all about awareness [..] to let these people [the victims’ family] know that we’re still looking for them, there are families that haven’t given up hope.”
She further commented on students’ role, saying they should be proactive in educating themselves on missing and murdered Indigenous women issues. “These are things that you might not always learn when you are studying in school, it’s not in the curriculum,” Sheehy-Gennarelli said. “Overall awareness is better than no awareness. Education is key, and informing yourself on issues, whether it be through school, or through news articles, […] and doing all that you can to support the first [inhabitants] of our land.”