Indigenous Activists Rally Across Canada for Missing Women

For the 25th year in a row, activists across Canada marched to mark the epidemic of missing and abused indigenous women.

On Saturday February 14th, marches were held in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and other cities across Canada for the annual ceremony to raise awareness on the thousands of indigenous women who have been murdered between 1980 and 2012.  In Toronto the action has come to be known as the Strawberry Ceremony, for the fruit which has come to represent aboriginal victims of violence.  The marches were first organized in 1991 in response to the murder of a Coast Salish woman in Vancouver.

Eighth Annual Women’s Memorial March in Winnipeg. Feb 14th, 2015. (Photo: Red Power Media)
Eighth Annual Women’s Memorial March in Winnipeg. Feb 14th, 2015. (Photo: Red Power Media)

The annual marches were ignited by a recent report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which blamed the Canadian government on federal and provincial levels for failing “to adequately prevent and protect Indigenous women and girls from killings, disappearances, and extreme forms of violence.” Reuters called the report “damning”. The report itself was requested by the Feminist Alliance for International Action and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).

Meghan Rhoad of Human Rights Watch stated, “The commission’s report shows that the international community cares about the lives of Indigenous women and girls. So does the Canadian public. The government should do the same.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the violence against Natives is a criminal problem, not a sociological one. He has resisted efforts to launch an official federal investigation. Despite the statements from Harper, the investigation points to systemic inequality, and discrimination against natives as the root cause of violence. NetNewsLedger reports that indigenous women are close to three times more likely than non-indigenous women to be a victim of a violent crime. Around 1,100 indigenous women are estimated to have been murdered or missing since 1980. The lack of accountability from the government has led to the creation of an independent database of murdered and missing indigenous women.

The day before the annual march, another effort was launched to raise awareness on the missing women and other crimes against indigenous populations of Canada. The “Shutdown Canada” call for nation-wide actions took place in 23 cities with the intention of disrupting the economy until their message is heard. At least one report stated that an indigenous woman was bumped by a police officer, resulting in her hand drum smashing into her mouth.

In Vancouver, Montreal, and Winnipeg intersections were briefly blocked in an attempt to garner public and media attention. ShutDownCanada states their goal as removing “the veil or illusion of the Conservative government’s “Action Plan” that is being touted as a strong economic stance for Canada in the global market.” The group blames the government for a number of injustices, including refusing to acknowledge and investigate the missing women; increasing expansion of tar sands extraction and “development” on the land of the Dene people; issuing grants and licenses for pit mining despite environmental concerns; destruction of wild salmon habitat; and fractured gas drilling the communities say are impacting their water supply.

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