On Feb. 17 at noon, people from many demographics gathered in front of Our Place, a society located downtown that offers support to Victoria’s most vulnerable, to remember the stolen sisters — indigenous women that have gone missing or been murdered.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has documented over 600 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. According to NWAC, aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely to experience violence, and their likelihood of being the victim of spousal homicide is eight times higher than for non-aboriginal women.
The purpose of the Stolen Sisters Memorial March was to provide a safe space for people to remember their loved ones and share stories, as well as to bring attention to the failure of the Canadian Government and police forces in finding and bringing the culprits to justice, thus allowing the violence to continue.
Before the actual march, drinks and snacks were passed around. MC Patty Macdonald welcomed participants by saying, “We’re all here, one mind and one heart.” She then paid tribute to her niece Leah Anderson, who went missing and was found dead in Manitoba earlier this year. “[Leah] is really in my heart today,” Macdonald said.
After a brief moment of silence, the march opened with a prayer asking for brothers and sisters to respect and love one another.
The group then walked down Pandora Avenue and stopped at the corner of Quadra Street and Pandora. Sinéad Charbonneau, a member of the Métis nation, took the microphone. She welcomed Cindy and Mike Simpson to join her in the heartbreaking story of her friend Ariana Simpson. “[She] was a beautiful, exciting and funny person to know,” Charbonneau recalled. She then told the crowd how, four years ago, Ariana had been murdered on the corner where she was standing. “Our ancestors would not have stood for this violence,” said Charbonneau. The main suspect, Christopher Michael Groves, was sentenced to one year in jail after being found guilty of pushing Simpson in front of a bus. “There is no justice; the violence that happened here is invisible,” she said.
The crowd continued on in solemn silence, turning on Government Street. Onlookers watched with curiosity. The crowd stopped again at the intersection of Government Street and Courtney Street and gathered in a circle around the second speaker, Sarah Hunt. She spoke of the women that we have lost too early and told participants to look around them and imagine “what the loss of any one of these young women could mean.” Hunt recognized the struggle that the families of these women go through. She finished by asking, “How can we change the norms that allow violence against us to continue?”
Afterwards, the crowd walked further down Government Street to the final stop at Thunderbird Park. There, the final speaker, Robina Thomas whose traditional name is Qwul’sih’yah’maht, thanked everyone involved in organizing the march. “We march today because these women were not disposable, and neither are we,” said Thomas in a poetic speech.
Then, Anna Spahan talked about her work at a treatment centre where she met a young man who escaped serial killer Robert Pickton. She prayed for him, victims and people out on the streets and blessed the food that was served for free at Thunderbird Park.
People were eating, remembering their loved ones and sharing their stories. A drum group ended the three-hour long remembrance walk to honour the indigenous women that were murdered or went missing and have not found justice yet.
Macdonald believes that until indigenous women are respected, there will continue to be unexplained disappearances and murders.