Thousands will gather in the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on February 14 to honour the lives of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women at the annual Women’s Memorial March.
The march has taken place every year on Valentine’s Day since 1992, but this year’s march comes amidst ongoing demonstrations around the country in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en.
Indigenous people and allies around the country are expressing solidarity with land defenders and rallying for Indigenous rights.
“On Sunday, there were 60 different actions globally, and that’s widespread now to over 100 across the country as well,” said Chief Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Executive with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
“It’s a widespread message to both the Trudeau government and to the Horgan government that they need to engage in nation-to-nation talks, with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.”
Chief Wilson says that at tomorrow’s march solidarity actions will continue along with the memorial march.
“There’s going to be actions and activities as well during the Missing and Murdered Women’s Annual Memorial March, as we honour and respect the Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and two spirited, because these issues are very tied and very related into why the oppression and genocide happens,” said Chief Wilson.
Wilson says the actions will continue until government leaders “do the right thing.”
With the creation of the pipeline and other extractive projects comes the creation of man camps on Wet’suwet’en territory.
Man camps are temporary housing facilities that are set up to house workers for industrial projects like the Coastal GasLink project.
Members of Unist’ot’en camp have publicly shared that they do not consent to man camps on their land.
“They create the social conditions for an increase of violence against Indigenous women and children,” said a release on the Unist’ot’en website.
“The culture and work conditions of ‘man camps’ exacerbate isolation, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, misogyny, hyper-masculinity, and racism among the men living there.”
Chief Wilson says there is significant concern that comes with man camps, especially in the context of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women.
“I really see why the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are very concerned about this type of man camp going in so close to their territory, and as you know in BC we’ve had a concern with Missing and Murdered Indigenous women for quite some time now,” said Wilson.
The Fort St. James area has experienced a 38% increase in RCMP-reported sexual assaults in one industrial project’s first year according to Unist’ot’en camp.
Amnesty International also notes how gendered violence is tied to resource development in the region, and puts the lives of Indigenous women and girls at risk.
At the women’s march this Friday, February 14, large crowds are likely, as the protection of Indigenous rights and land remains top of mind in solidarity demonstrations country-wide.
The event starts with a family remembrance ceremony at Carnegie Theatre on Main Street where no media are permitted. The attendees will then head outside to begin the march.
Along the route, stops will be made at various locations where women have gone missing or have been victims of violence.
“The National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls that was concluded last year, does signify that there’s a continuous concern in terms of the genocide and the racism and systemic violence against indigenous women and girls,” said Chief Wilson.
“The memorial march is the way women come together; they come from all parts of BC, as well as other provinces, and they honour and remember the missing Indigenous women and girls and two spirit.”
At each location, a special Indigenous ceremony is performed to pay respects to the women.
Loved ones will often place down roses — red symbolizing the murdered and yellow for the missing — at these sites.
For women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the march is a reminder of the deaths of vulnerable women who have gone missing, many of them Indigenous.
“It’s a way we can continue our support and acknowledgment for these families of people who have lost loved ones, and also the ones who are still dealing with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence that happens on a day to day basis in this area, and all over,” said Wilson.