Over 50 people gathered on Saturday in the foggy mist of Halifax’s Parade Square to honour the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women from across the country.
The Halifax branch of the annual, cross-Canada Sisters in Spirit Vigil march commemorated the hundreds of native women and girls who are missing or have been killed. They demanded that the Canadian government perform a national inquiry and for the public to pay attention.
“The highway where Loretta’s body was found ruthlessly dumped; that’s our highway, Nova Scotians. They’re our rivers where Tina Fontaine’s body came out,” Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, said to the crowd of native and non-native supporters.
“That’s the message that we need to be sending everybody.”
Aboriginal women are almost three times as likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Aboriginal women are. In late 2013, police-recorded incidents of female homicides and unresolved missing Aboriginal women totalled 1,184. The number has increased in the last year.
The magnitude of the problem has recently gained traction with local media following the 2014 homicide of Inuit university student Loretta Saunders. But for years, there has been an outcry from Aboriginal groups for public investigation, a call for resolution after decades of tragedy.
Many feel that the sound has been only faintly heard by the Harper government. Even more feel it has not been heard at all.
Like the others at the event, Maloney plans to continue to fight until change is implemented. But she is skeptical that those changes will come from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“He has showed us over and over again that they are indifferent to missing and murdered indigenous women,” she said of Harper.
“We need a country that’s different than that.”
Individuals carrying Mi’kmaq flags and signs bearing the faces of missing and murdered sisters, wives, mothers and friends marched around Citadel Hill and into the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street.
They filled the centre, crouching in corners and sharing chairs. The group shared a feast while listening to lessons from elders, a testimony from a murdered woman’s sister and performances from artists including Halifax’s poet laureate, El Jones.
“You can really feel the pain in the room, but you can also feel the power and the perseverance,” said Anika Roberts-Stahlbrand, the vice-president external of the King’s Students’ Union.
“It is really important in this globalized world to think about the issues that are happening all over, but I also think that we have some serious issues of colonialism happening right here in Canada. They’re happening in Nova Scotia, and even right here in Halifax.”
Maloney believes that the demand for answers regarding missing and murdered aboriginal women should come not just from native groups, but from all Canadians.
“If you’ve never gone through [the loss of a loved one], then go home tonight, count your blessings, and thank God. But in the meantime, do what you can to help,” she said.
“Whether it’s putting up posters, whether it’s social media, or whether it’s coming out on cold, rainy days in October to stand with these families, it’s important.”
[box type:”info”] Corrections have been made to the story. The original version said that Saunders’ death was in 2013, not 2014. The number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women has also been updated. The Watch regrets the errors. Thanks to Rachelle McKay. [/box]