A crowd of thousands marched through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls on Tuesday, February 14.
The first Women’s Memorial March was held in 1992 after the murder of a young Indigenous woman on Powell Street. In the years since, families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), community organizers and activists continue to take to the street every year to grieve the ongoing violence that disproportionately targets Indigenous women in Canada.
Last year’s march culminated in the toppling of “Gassy Jack” — a statue of John Deighton, an English colonizer and Vancouver bar owner who married and had a child with a 12-year-old Squamish girl named Quahail-ya.
2023 marks the march’s 32nd year.
Event organizers emphasized the “minimal to no action to address these tragedies or the systemic nature of gendered violence, poverty, racism, or colonialism,” according to its website.
Beginning at Main and Hastings in front of Carnegie Community Centre, family members of MMIWG gave speeches in remembrance of their loved ones. The public march began at 12 p.m., with female elders carrying medicines at the front, followed by drummers and family members.
Young girls scattered red and yellow flower petals at the head of the march while women with painted faces and ribbon skirts sang healing songs, with their fists raised. Clouds of smoke from burning sage filled the air above the crowd. Marchers stopped at several points along the procession route to honour where women were last seen or found.
Family and community members gave speeches around 2 p.m. when the marchers returned to Main and Hastings. National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations RoseAnne Archibald, Canadian Senator Michèle Taïna Audette and Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Melanie Mark gave speeches highlighting the root causes of the genocide against Indigenous women.
“One of the things we have to address is the overt, covert and systemic racism that exists in our policing, in our justice system, in our health system, and even in government,” said Archibald.