By Maya-Roisin Slater
VANCOUVER — The Women’s Memorial March takes place each year in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on February 14th. Done in commemoration of missing aboriginal women, this event is built on the same foundation as that of Valentine’s Day, a foundation of love; a day where people can publicize their feelings for those they love.
The march was started by the family of a murdered Coast Salish woman whose body parts were scattered along a several-block radius by her killer. “No one ever took note when women were being killed,” says Fay Blaney, one of the march’s current organizers. “Social services often provided a 20-minute funeral, hardly any time for family to grieve. This woman’s family wanted a spiritual ceremony to honour her and send her into the spirit world in a good way. There were so many other families that suffered the same experience and wanted to have a ceremony for the loved ones they had lost. The Women’s Memorial March has been going for 25 years now.”
During the march, community members will walk by places women were last seen or where they were killed, ceremonies are performed by elders memorializing the women. Blaney, who previously taught post-secondary education, would make attending marches a class assignment. In doing so she saw the dramatic effect that raising awareness of these injustices can have on a community. Most students were unaware of these missing women as their disappearances had not been publicized in the same way that other cases in different neighbourhoods and to different races had been.
“Attending the march created increased sensitivity to issues of poverty, the impact of colonization and the misogyny inherent in the violence that these women experience. The shift is dramatic and teaches so much more than any instructor could in a classroom.”
It is the hope that as more people become aware of these deaths, the pressure to treat cases with the immediacy and competence they deserve will increase.
“It took a very long time to raise awareness and bring public attention to the issue of the murdered and missing women. [Robert] Pickton could have been stopped years sooner if the police had not been so negligent. It took a long time to bring this issue to the attention of the indigenous leadership but now they are part of a larger effort calling for a full and independent public inquiry into this issue.”
On the day of the march, participants will meet at 11 a.m. at the Carnegie Centre to listen to speeches by family members of missing women. The march will continue from there. If you would like to be involved in the event’s planning there are weekly meetings every Thursday at 10 a.m. in the same location. Though the gruesome and heavily publicized prosecution of Pickton did shed light on the police’s blatant mishandling of cases with missing aboriginal women, it did not ignite the change needed to bring full safety and equality for those potentially in danger.
“Since the Pickton trials, there has definitely been more attention paid to this issue. But the fact is that indigenous women continue to be devalued in Canadian society. So the conditions that lead to the Pickton massacre still exist and women are no more safe today than they were back then,” Blaney explains.
It is with this knowledge that we choose to march on Valentine’s Day out of love for those we’ve lost, and love for those we wish to protect.
More details on the march can be found here.BC, British Columbia, Carnegie Centre, Downtown East Side, missing and murdered aboriginal women, Women's Memorial March