“How many missing, until you start listening?” chanted protesters on Saturday as they marched down St. Laurent, asking why, after almost a decade, the Canadian government has continued to overlook the disappearances and deaths of Indigenous women. Activists estimate that 60 per cent of the 3,000 women who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada since 1980 are Indigenous, with hundreds of cases still unsolved.
Braving the rain, over 1,000 people came to the ninth annual March and Vigil for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women – organized by Missing Justice, Quebec Native Women, and the Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA) – to demand justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and call on the Canadian government to investigate the violence against them. The march was one of around 100 Sisters in Spirit events held across Canada on Saturday to protest these issues.
Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, Publicity and Promotions Coordinator at the CGA, spoke to The Daily about the march’s significance. “This march was founded nine years ago by Bridget Tolley, an Algonquin woman, on the anniversary of her mother’s death. One of the main purposes of the march is to pay respects to and honour the many, many lives of missing and murdered Native women and girls across Canada,” Rolbin-Ghanie told The Daily.
Tolley initiated the march in honour of her mother, Gladys Tolley, who died in 2001 after being hit by a Sûreté du Québec (SQ) police cruiser. No inquiry was made into the case, and no officers were charged in her death.
The event on Saturday evening started off at Place Émilie-Gamelin with an opening performance by the Buffalo Hat Singers and with speakers from various groups discussing the government’s lack of action to end the violence against missing and murdered Indigenous women.
This was followed by an hour-long march, mostly on St. Laurent, during which protesters chanted slogans such as “Solidarité avec les femmes autochtones!” (Solidarity with Indigenous women) and “Bring our daughters home, bring our sisters home!” The march ended with a candlelight vigil and musical performances by members of the Indigenous community, some of whom were personally affected by the systemic violence against Indigenous women.
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Many at the march expressed their displeasure with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s lack of action toward preventing violence against Indigenous women. Alison Hackney, a protester at Saturday’s march spoke to this frustration, telling The Daily she hoped that the march “[would] help bring better change in government, and I hope this government, or a future government, will initiate a national inquiry and seriously address the issue.”
McGill’s chapter of Amnesty International numbered among the many human rights groups that marched on Saturday. D’Arcy White, a U3 Political Science and Economics student and VP External for Amnesty International at McGill, told The Daily that he sought to raise awareness of the problem both at McGill and in surrounding communities.
“Our group came out to the march to express our concern over the disproportionate amount of Aboriginal women who have fallen victim to violent crime in the past two decades,” said White.
“In Canada, Aboriginal women are four times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be murdered,” White continued. “Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, it’s clear that the institutions meant to protect human rights in this country are failing Aboriginal women disproportionately. It shouldn’t take more murdered and missing Indigenous women for greater initiative to fix the problem.”
Some activists also addressed the impact of the disappearances and deaths of Indigenous women on their families and communities. Saimata Manning, an employment counselor for Inuit people in Montreal, has met many such families, and believes that while a national inquiry is important, providing support for the families of victims is crucial as well. “Some families have been hurt so much that they turn to drugs and alcohol, family violence,” said Manning. “I think [the government] should implement something that gives back to the community, to [Indigenous people or others], to have programs, maybe open up things that people can go to.”
“There’s always the aspect of the march that aims to take up public space and to draw attention to the issue, and, we hope, to the deeply systemic nature of the issue, so that people aren’t just saying ‘Oh, poor Native women are going missing and being murdered’ without understanding the deeper root causes behind it,” Rolbin-Ghanie told The Daily. “The system is failing native women and children in their communities.”
At the end of the vigil, an Indigenous speaker led the closing prayer, who said, “Let’s bring our minds together, let’s bring our collective efforts together, let’s, in unity, do something for our collective good – not just the good of my community, not just the good of your community […] but the collective, human good.”