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Cities hold Valentines Day walk for missing and murdered Aboriginal women

Friday February 28, 2014
photo by Stephanie Wesley/Wawatay News

The sixth annual Valentines Day Memorial Walk, which honours missing and murdered women in Canada, was held in about 20 cities across the country.

In Thunder Bay, members of the public gathered at city hall, including organizer Sharon Johnson.

“It’s been 22 years since I lost my sister Sandra,” Johnson said.

Sandra sister was found murdered in the East End of Thunder Bay near the McIntyre-Neebing Floodway. Her murderer has never been caught.

Johnson told the crowd that she was leery of speaking to the media or speaking at all about her sister’s death – fearing that herself or her family would be a target of violence.

“I was really scared of that, not knowing who might be out there still,” Johnson said.

Talking to Elders encouraged her to start talking on the issue, and six years ago she began holding memorial walks every Valentines Day in the city for missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

The memorial walk was held in six other cities in Ontario, including Toronto, London, Oshawa, Orillia, Sault Ste. Marie and Owen Sound.

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy, speaking at the Thunder Bay walk, said that if it wasn’t for women like his mother, he would not be where he is today.

“My grandmother was a native woman, my mother she was a native woman and I love her very much,” Beardy said. “It doesn’t matter what race you are a part of, we have those relations that matter to us. We love our women.”

In the fall, an Ottawa researcher named Maryanne Pearce finished a thesis for the University of Ottawa law school that included a database of missing and murdered women across Canada.

Her thesis, titled “An Awkward Silence: Missing and Murdered Vulnerable Women and the Canadian Justice System,” is available online.

Pearce spent seven years researching the issue and compiled a database of 3,329 missing or murdered women, 824 of whom are Aboriginal.

In each case, Pearce noted key factors in the women’s lives like homeless, addiction, involvement in the sex trade, Crown wards, and mental health issues. Pearce also found that even though Aboriginal women make up two per cent of the Canadian population, they made up 24.8 per cent of the missing and murdered women listed in the database.

Beardy called it a “national disgrace” that murdered and missing women and girls “don’t even register in the national consciousness of Canada.”

“These events are a chance for us to not only remember the murdered and missing women and girls who are our beloved grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, cousins and aunties but to honour their families,” Beardy stated. “It’s also an opportunity for all Canadians to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Indigenous women are valued like any other member of society.”

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler joined the growing call for a national public inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women.

“I strongly urge the Prime Minister to reconsider his position and call this inquiry so we can finally uncover the truth behind these tragic losses and develop the necessary supports for First Nation women and children,” Fiddler said in a news release.

The Canadian government has rejected recommendations by the United Nations Human Rights Council for a comprehensive national plan to end violence against Indigenous women and girls during last year’s United Nations review of Canada’s human rights record.

“The federal government says it is committed to preventing violence against Aboriginal women but our mothers, sisters and daughters are still dying and disappearing without a trace,” Fiddler said.

“For years we have urged the government to work with us to develop a comprehensive, united approach to end this violence,” Fiddler said. “The time for action is now.”

Thunder Bay Police Chief JP Levesque told Thunder Bay crowd that the police service would welcome a national strategy on the issue “not only on what happened in the past, but going ahead into the future for prevention.”

Beardy encourages Canadian society as a whole to stand together to demand an inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

“It’s not an Indian issue, it’s a Canadian issue,” Beardy said.

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