At noon on Feb.14, 35 people gathered at City Hall in Thunder Bay to participate in the fifth annual Valentine’s Day memorial march for missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Before the march, three women talked to the small crowd about their reasons for organizing and attending the march.
Annette Schroeter or Muskrat Dam First Nation, explained that the subject of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a “huge issue.”
Schroeter was born and raised in Prince George, BC. The city is located on Highway 16 which is known as the “highway of tears.”
“Since the 1940’s, about 18 women have gone missing along that route,” Schroeter said. She explained that being from the area, she knew families of women who have went missing on the highway. “It’s very personal for a lot of us; (the missing women) are family members of the people we know.”
During her speech, Schroeter talked about sexual assault cases in BC involving First Nations women and law officials. She said after three years of stories of the assaults circulating, the cases were finally looked into. Schroeter also made mention of a report recently released by the New York-based Human Rights Watch group that contains allegations of sexual assaults on First Nations women by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in BC.
“The Canadian justice system has continued to fail us. We need to end the constant grief and fear we all live under so our women can live a better life,” Schroeter said.
Sharon Johnson said she hopes her nieces can grow up and have a good life where they do not have to carry the hurt that she and her family do regarding the unsolved murder of her sister Sandra in Thunder Bay 21 years ago.
The anniversary of Sandra’s death falls on Feb.13. Her body was found on the frozen ice of the Neebing-McIntyre flood way in the East End area of Thunder Bay.
“I decided to hold these events for other families because I know how hard it is to live with the grief and to have no answers as to what happened to my own sister,” Johnson said. She has
been involved in the Valentine’s Day march for the last five years. Johnson said that it is important for families of missing and murdered women to “be there for each other and support each other.”
Mary Natawance said she attended the march to honor the memory of her sisters. Three of Natawance’s sisters were murdered: one in Thunder Bay, another in Minneapolis, and one in Vancouver.
“That’s why I join these walks all the time,” Natawance said. “I always think about my sisters.”
Johnson led the march, carrying an Eagle staff that had dozens of pink ribbons tied to it. Each ribbon had the name of a missing or murdered Indigenous woman on it.
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