Every February, on and around Valentine’s Day, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people organize marches for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) across the country.
First inspired by the Women’s Memorial March that began in Vancouver in 1992 after Cheryl Ann Joe, a woman from the Shíshálh Nation, was found murdered, the Stolen Sisters of Victoria Memorial March has taken on a life of its own. Now in its 14th year, the march still maintains the same message: uplift families.
“It means a lot of things to our community, it’s grassroots, it’s not a protest,” said Lisa deWit, a member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Laksilyu clan, who is part of the march committee. “This march is centered around love and is a memorial to remember women, children and LGBTQ2S+ people who have gone missing or been murdered.
“It’s also to give space to those of us who are grieving, who are in limbo, or who are still searching.”
Sewing red ribbon skirts in honor of the MMIWG
For deWit, whose aunt disappeared in October 2017, these marches taking place in British Columbia and the rest of Canada are necessary.
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“It is an opportunity to remind society as a whole that this problem is still present,” he said. “Maybe it will inspire others to be curious, to understand the systems that contribute to our women going missing and being murdered; (The MMIWG crisis) is more than just statistics.”
But the statistics are heartbreaking.
According to the Assembly of First Nations, Indigenous women represent 16 per cent of all homicide victims and 11 per cent of missing women, but Indigenous people make up only five per cent of Canada’s population.
When the MMIWG Inquiry released its final report in 2019, its work revealed that “persistent and deliberate violations and abuses of human and Indigenous rights are the root cause of Canada’s staggering rates of violence against women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA towns.”
MMIWG final report published, calls for systemic change
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With statistics, facts and the names of loved ones in hand, deWit feels the marches provide an opportunity for communities to heal.
“These losses not only affect the family, but entire clans,” he said. “These spaces must be defended, cared for so that we can continue working, to continue searching.
“It’s really important to understand that those of us who are affected by the loss of our loved ones understand very clearly that, for us, the reality is that you can be here one day and be gone the next.“
Everyone is invited to attend this year’s Stolen Sisters Memorial March. Those interested are asked to gather at Our Place (919 Pandora Ave.) on Saturday, February 10 at noon PST for an opening prayer and march to the British Columbia legislature, where there will be drummers and speakers.
“Through the march, we want to show that life is worth living well,” deWit said. “And we must take care of our community so that the women in our communities are sacred and deserve to be protected.”
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