VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Red colored the streets of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver Tuesday, Feb. 14 as thousands gathered to honor the lives of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women across Canada at the annual Women’s Memorial March.
This was the 32nd march — which began in 1992 in response to a murder of a woman in the Downtown Eastside. Today, it continues to allow the community to grieve the lives of women and gender-diverse people lost in the Downtown Eastside, remember the women still missing and to fight for justice.
The public march began at 12 p.m. at the Carnegie Community Centre in downtown Vancouver. Before the march, family members of women who had gone missing or been murdered spoke to the growing crowd. Many directed anger towards law enforcement for not doing enough to find missing Indigenous women — specifically the Vancouver Police Department.
At its peak, the group spanned several blocks as they traveled in a loop through the Downtown Eastside. Girls threw red and yellow petals on the ground as they walked, and the crowd often burst into the Women’s Warrior Song.
Elders led the march, stopping frequently to place flowers, tobacco and medicine at locations where Indigenous women had been found murdered in the past.
Signs spotted the crowd — “Melissa Maureen Nicholson, Shawnigan Lake, BC, unsolved June 9, 1991” read one, while another pleaded for tips in the 1994 murder of Sonya Cywink. The names of women likely murdered in the Downtown Eastside, such as Chelsea Poorman and Tatyanna Harrison, showed up on several signs.
According to the Canadian Department of Justice, Indigenous women and girls account for at least one-fifth to one-quarter of all female homicides in Canada annually. Indigenous women and girls are also eight times more likely to be victims of intimate-partner homicides than non-Indigenous women in Canada.
At around 2:30 p.m., the group gathered again around Main Street and East Hastings Street for speeches, before heading on to a healing circle at Oppenheimer Park.
In a speech, B.C. Minister Melanie Mark, the only Indigenous woman in the B.C Legislative Assembly, urged Indigenous women in attendance to recognize their “strength” in the face of a system that has been “oppressing us and trying to break us.”
Canadian Sen. Michele Audette, who was one of five commissioners who conducted the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, attended the march. The inquiry, launched in 2016, culminated in a final report in 2019 that included extensive recommendations for the government to prevent systemic violence against Indigenous women. The national inquiry deemed Canada’s actions towards Indigenous people amounted to genocide.
RoseAnne Archibald, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, spoke to the crowd about her commitment to fighting for the “stolen sisters.”
“I want people to know that it’s an ongoing genocide, it has to end,” Archibald said. “Every time we lose a woman, every time a woman is missing or murdered, that’s a part of that ongoing genocide. That genocide started with colonialism and colonization. “
She emphasized the need to address what she called “overt, covert and systemic racism” that exists in policing, the justice system, the health system and in government.
“That’s something that is a root cause of what is happening to our women,” she said.
Audette committed to continuing to bring the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to her colleagues in the Senate and governments she interacts with.
“I saw today, I felt today, I listened, I cried, I laughed … to remind me the work of the national inquiry is not over,” she said. “Even though the inquiry had a beginning and an end, your voice, your truth will carry in my heart every day until I am a star in the sky.”