By Lee-Ann Mudaly & Marilla Steuter-Martin
Montreal, Oct. 4, 2013– The drums echoed throughout the streets, as the voices chanted, “No justification for racist nation…Investigate crimes of hate…Bring our sisters home!”
The 8th annual March for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women took place Friday Oct. 4, beginning at Cabot Square. The event was organized by Sisters in Spirit along with Missing Justice.
The march commenced at the corner of Atwater and St-Catherine St., and ended with a candlelit vigil at Phillips Square. Several hundred people gathered Friday evening to commemorate the unresolved cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and to raise awareness about the issue.
Protesting Against Systemic Violence, Raising Voices for Awareness
“This is an issue that is impacting people every day. Indigenous women are going missing and being murdered every day and we don’t see true justice being served,” explained Candice Cascanette, a media representative for Missing Justice.
Along with drawing attention to the matter, she says one of the goals of the event is to put pressure on the government to investigate.
“There is a demand from the United Nations to conduct a public inquiry into the violence that indigenous women face and the Canadian government, for over a year now, is refusing to allow the inquiry to happen,” said Cascanette.
The crowd fell silent as the event kicked off at around 7:30 p.m., with a prayer given by John Cree in his native language.
“I think it’s very important that we talk more about the injustice that’s going on,” Cree said.
This is a longstanding issue, where Aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered. Reported cases alone since 1980 tally approximately 600 Native women who have gone missing or have been murdered, according to the Native Women’s Association. Other organizations and activists, among them Missing Justice, suspect that the actual number is as high as 3000.
Bridget Tolley founded the march and vigil in 2005 on October 4th, which is the anniversary of her mother Gladys Tolley’s death. This year Bridget Tolley could not make it out to the annual gathering in Montreal, but said her “heart will always be in Montreal on October 4th” and that she would “be there in spirit.”
Since its founding, the march has grown and has been embraced by many supporters nationally and internationally. It has been spread across the country. According to Missing Justice, “Marches are now held in communities across Canada, in the hundreds, with one march being held as far away as Nicaragua, showing us that the problem of Indigenous women being disproportionately affected by violence is one of colonized Nations worldwide.”
Speakers for Change
Speakers took to the steps, speaking into the mic words of personal experience and at times outrage at the injustices felt by the First Nations community. Following the speeches, volunteers dutifully seized the banner, together hoisted it up high and took the first steps. The march had begun.
The Montreal police department had car escorts – one inching forward in the front, one on the left flank and one securing the back. Walking down St-Catherine St., volunteers handed out flyers to passers-by. Some pedestrians shouted out obscenities at the walkers.
For the most part people stood and silently watched as the mass walked through the streets to the beat of the drum. Voices sang from within the crowd, a song in a native tongue. Then came chants that rang louder and clear:
“What do we want?” The voices boomed back, “Justice, now!”
The Crowd Marches On
The crowd came to stop and the walkers filed into the square. A few words were spoken and a Aboriginal song was sung by one of the speakers. A sense of solidarity fell over the gathered crowd as they lit candles. The candlelight vigil began and a moment of silence was observed in honour of those mothers, sisters and daughters who died or have disappeared, yet to be found.