Vigil and march honours murdered and missing Indigenous women

Over 600 Indigenous women mourned and remembered

For the eighth year in a row, Missing Justice held the Vigil and March for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women in Montreal. The vigil was one of 360 similar events held across the world, according to organizers.

Around 200 protesters gathered at Cabot Square, where speeches were given to an emotional and applauding crowd by Viviane Michel, Joey Shaw, John Cree, and others. Afterward, the march winded down Ste. Catherine and ended at Phillips Square with a candlelit vigil and various performances.

Those who spoke at the rally talked about the long-lasting effects of residential schools, the ongoing colonization of Indigenous people and lands, and the injustice of missing and murdered Indigenous women from their communities.

“I want justice. I want justice for my mother. I want justice for myself. I want justice for everyone here. I want justice for the hundreds of missing and murdered Native women across this country,” said Irkar Beljaars, a Métis journalist and activist, in one of the speeches. “And more importantly, I want justice for everyone across this country.”

“There’s a phenomenon of native women going missing and being murdered across Canada,” Bianca Mugyenyi, Programming and Campaigns Coordinator at the Centre for Gender Advocacy, told The Daily in an interview.

One demonstrator, who identified only as Caroline, shared that she was at the march because of a close personal connection to the issue. “My auntie went missing from Winnipeg in 1992 and she was supposed to go home to Vancouver after our grandfather passed away and she was never heard of again. We don’t know where she went, we don’t know if she made it, there has been nothing that has come to light.”

According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), there are around 600 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Activists argue that this figure is too low, citing a shortage of data due to a lack of funding and political support, while police claim that the figure is too high.

“One person, one woman, one girl, is way too many already,” said a member of Missing Justice at the march.

Bridget Tolley began the annual march in 2005, when her mother, Gladys Tolley, was struck and killed by a Surêté du Québec police cruiser. The officer in question was never charged, and an independent investigation was denied.

According to Mugyenyi, this lack of resolution is not uncommon, and is instead a major problem when dealing with the issue of violence against Indigenous women. “When the police don’t take these cases seriously, as indicated in that these cases are not solved, and when the justice system does not give the same support, people need to act.”

“If women keep going missing, and there will be this silence around it, which means that they are more vulnerable [… and] in even greater danger,” she said.

Many demonstrators felt that it wasn’t remarkable that they were attending, but that it was their duty.

“I am not doing anyone a favour by coming here, I am not doing anything excellent [by coming here …],” said Sara Sebti, a McGill student, adding, “As a privileged person you have the responsibility to use your privilege in a productive way.”

Others pointed to ongoing colonization in Canada as a concern, and as motivation for attending the march.

“Our whole Canadian, Quebec [sic] society is built on colonization,” said Cleve Higgins, an attendee. “You can see it in the banks we are walking past, and the tar sands and all those things that destroy the lands Indigenous people are living on.”

Mugyenyi echoed this concern. “All Canadians have a historical obligation to right the wrongs of the colonial legacy.”

When asked what the next steps were for the movement in the future, Mugyenyi highlighted the vastness of the issue. “In terms of research and awareness, we need funding for it,” she said, referring to the fact that the only federally funded initiative – the Sisters in Sprit database – lost its financial support in 2010.

“[We also need to] counteract stereotypes of Native women, which increase their susceptibility to violence. […We need] cultural sensitivity for police forces; they don’t have the tools to investigate completely and thoroughly, or with the will to do so,” Mugyenyi continued.

Many of the demonstrators at the march and vigil agreed that while the government had a role in helping with funding and broader support, there needs to be more power given to Indigenous communities.

“We only [march] one evening a year but it should be a lot more than that,” said Higgins, “[We should protest] until it is taken seriously by the government [and] they actually put some effort in helping these Indigenous women.”

With files from Hannah Besseau, Joelle Dahm, and Sarina Gupta.