Inspired first by the Women’s Memorial March that started in Vancouver in 1992 after Cheryl Ann Joe, a shíshálh Nation woman, was found murdered, Victoria’s Stolen Sisters Memorial March has taken on a life of its own. Now in its 14th year, the march still maintains the same message — uplifting families.
“It means many things to our community, it’s grassroots, it’s not a protest,” said Lisa deWit, a member of Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Laksilyu clan, who is part of the march’s committee. “This march is centred in love and it’s a memorial to remember women, children and LGBTQ2S+ who have gone missing or been murdered.
“It’s also to hold space for those of us who are mourning, left in limbo or still searching.”
Sewing red ribbon skirts in honour of MMIWG
For deWit, whose aunt disappeared in October 2017, these marches that happen across British Columbia and the rest of Canada are needed.
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“It’s an opportunity to remind greater society as a whole that this issue is still present,” she said. “Perhaps it inspires others to get curious, to understand the systems that are contributing to our women disappearing and being murdered — (the MMIWG crisis) is more than just stats.”
But the stats are harrowing.
According to the Assembly of First Nations, Indigenous women make up 16 per cent of all female homicide victims, and 11 per cent of missing women, yet Indigenous people make up only five per cent of the population of Canada.
When the MMIWG Inquiry released its final report in 2019, its work revealed that “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.”
Final MMIWG report released and calls for systemic change
With stats, facts and the names of loved ones in hand, deWit feels that marches provide an opportunity for communities to heal.
“These losses don’t just impact the family, it’s entire clans,” she said. “These spaces need to be upheld, to be cared for in order for us to continue to do the work, to keep searching.
“It’s really important to understand that those of us that are affected by the loss of our loved ones, we understand very clearly that for us, the reality is you can be here one day and you can 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, Feb. 10 at noon PT for an opening prayer and march to the B.C. legislature, where there will be drummers and speakers.
“Through the march, we want to demonstrate that life is worth living well,” deWit said. “And we need to take care of our community in a way that women in our communities are sacred and we deserve to be protected.”
First Nations missing persons tracker: Part II
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