Every Valentine's Day since 1992, thousands of people have gathered in the streets of Vancouver to honour the lives of the city’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.
This year is no different, as the annual march organizer told Daily Hive that they will honour 970 women from Downtown Eastside.
The Women’s Memorial March was first launched in response to the murder of Cheryl Ann Joe, a woman from Coast Salish who was brutally murdered in Vancouver, but it has since continued as a way to honour the many lives lost in the area.
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“It’s a very sad day,” organizer Evelyne Youngchief told Daily Hive. “The [Indigenous] elders will come out, and people are holding hands. And then the drummers and the family members. It’s a really sad moment but you have to be there to capture it.”
A remembrance ceremony for families will take place at Carnegie Theatre before participants head out for the march, which is led by Indigenous elders, Daily Hive reported.
The march route traces locations where women have gone missing or experienced violence and the group stops at each spot to pay tribute to these victims by laying roses and holding Indigenous ceremonies. Red roses symbolize those who were murdered and yellow roses symbolize those who are missing, according to Daily Hive.
The February 14 annual Women's Memorial March gathers families, friends and allies to recognize and honour the lives of missing and murdered women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.— YWCA Metro Vancouver (@YWCAVAN) February 14, 2019
The march starts at noon from Carnegie (Main and Hastings). #MMIWpic.twitter.com/BG10J43miE
Just under 1,200 Indigenous women were murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012, according to an RCMP report in 2014. But many people, including Canada’s former Minister for the Status of Women Patty Hajdu, believe that the actual numbers are much higher — closer to 4,000, Hajdu said.
In response to these stats, the government of Canada launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2016. Its mission is to observe and report on the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, but it has been highly criticized, as many argue it has done little to improve the situation.
“For me, that inquiry is a joke. It’s a joke,” Youngchief told Daily Hive.
She participated in Vancouver hearings with the inquiry.
“I hated it. It was so horrible to be there as a survivor. I didn’t even speak about being a survivor. I spoke about all my friends who I lost from the Downtown Eastside and the Pickton farm and be being a witness at the trial,” she said.
While today’s march is a sad one, it also honours lives lost and calls attention to a persisting issue.
In 2015 alone, one-quarter of all female homicide victims in Canada were Indigenous, according to CBC. This march serve as a reminder that more needs to be done to address the very real issue of gender-based violence in Canada.