The 11th Annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls took place on February 14th, 2018 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
The Memorial March originated 27 years ago, on February 14th, in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The annual gathering and march serve as calls to attention and to action, as to the disproportionately high numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
A large crowd numbering in the hundreds gathered in front of the Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse beginning at noon on Wednesday, to stand in solidarity with social justice organizations who organized the annual remembrance, as well as to hold up in thoughts and prayers, indigenous persons and women across the country.
Leadership from four regional First Nations were in attendance, and spoke to the crowd, including Chief Dean Sayers – Batchewana First Nation, Chief Paul Syrette – Garden River First Nation, Chief Elaine Johnson – Serpent River First Nation and Deputy Chief Corey McCloud – Missanabie Cree First Nation.
Guest speakers also included Connie Manitowabi who represented Anishinabe Kweok, Allyson Schmidt, Cacelia Trahan – Youth Odena, Cathy Syrette – Indian Friendship Centre, Marly Day – Nookimisuk Grandmothers against Human Trafficking, Dr. Vivian Jimenez-Estrada – Algoma University, MPP Ross Romano and Jennifer Syrette – Executive Director, Nimkii-Naabkawagan Family Crisis Shelter.
Red felt dresses were offered to those who gathered and were pinned to winter coats as part of the Red Dress Campaign. The symbolic red cut-out dresses are a physical remembrance to honour and grieve women and girls who have died though violence or who have gone missing. They are also a call to action – to end violence in all its forms.
Music was offered by a large circle of young people who captivated the crowd as they sang and drummed in unison.
Healing Lodge Singers offered prayerful songs and Bear Creek Drum performed a travelling song.
Earlier in the week, leading up to the MMIW gathering, ribbons were tied onto trees that dot the landscape along Queen Street, between the Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse and Bruce St.
The ribbons, representative of four colours, share the story of “the four cardinal directions, reminding us of Anishinaabe teachings about the interconnectedness amongst different peoples, beings, stages of life, and medicines.” Stated Patricia Lesage, Missanabie Cree First Nation, in a media release.
Summit Church (Bruce & Queen St.) marked the Memorial March route’s end where a luncheon was served, and a sharing circle took place, facilitated by Elder Dorothy Elie.
According to the RCMP’s 2015 updated report ‘Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview’, 1,017 Indigenous women have been murdered over the past 30 years. There are 174 Indigenous women who are missing, and 111 of those cases were under suspicious circumstances and remain unsolved today.
Statistics Canada (2011) reported rates of violence against Indigenous women is three times higher than for non-Indigenous women, and seven times higher for homicide rates. The RCMP states these databases are incomplete and need more regular updating.
“The Memorial March organizers stand in solidarity with all who have been affected by this issue. We also call on our brothers, sisters, and supporters across the globe to make the sacredness of the lives of Indigenous women, girls, LGBT2S, boys, and men a priority.” stated a media release.
“Gendered and colonial violence implicates all of us who live on Indigenous land and territories. Let us walk to honour those who are missing and murdered, and say that today, this violence must stop, starting with us.”
The following video offers highlights of the 11th annual MMIW remembrance event. Nimkii-Naabkawagan Family Crisis Shelter, Batchewana First Nation was the lead organization, in collaboration with other social justice groups, which brought so many hearts and minds together. Libertine Wilson facilitated the two hour remembrance, as M.C.