A pilgrimage is described as any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest for spiritual purpose, to pay homage. It’s a spiritual votive… a sacred promise put to action.
Being a part of the annual February 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March is best described in similar ways.
For me, it’s a long ongoing journey, a ceremony, a search for meaning, and an opportunity for gathering strength and healing. It’s also a stark reminder that while the profile of the issue, now captured in hashtags #MMIW, #MMIWG, #AmINext, #NoMoreStolenSisters etc… has been raised to International attention, the violence continues.
Before the march, there is a gathering for family members hosted inside Carnegie Center. Here families of those stolen sisters are able to share, testify and find comfort with each other. During this time the community gathers outside in solidarity and takes the intersection. It is no small feat and after 27 years, now involves thousands of people, taking one of the busiest intersections in Vancouver; Main and Hastings.
There are no organizational banners. No advertising. No sponsors. This is all community driven. This is the one day a year where women of the community are centered as leaders, guardians, speakers, singers, protectors. It’s the one day a year we can try and gather safely and name the violence. It’s the one day of a year we can mourn our lost ones together. It is a day when we get to dismiss the burden of stigma, and celebrate the beauty of the lives we honour.
The RCMP have referenced 1,181 Missing or murdered Indigenous women (not including girls). They are still looking at this the wrong way. They only count us when we are gone, they don’t count those of us that have survived the exact same circumstances. If you counted those of us that have survived poverty, violence and misogyny, what would the numbers look like then? How big of an epidemic of violence would you be trying to quantify if you counted survivors? We are all survivors.
The March is led by our matriarchs, our eldest warriors with whom the wisdom of survival and resilience resides. They lead us through the DTES singing the Women’s Warrior Song. We leave medicine and tobacco at the sites in which women were last seen, or were found murdered. This year we carried the ashes and prayers of one of our elders Bea, who although gone, is by no means forgotten.
This march first started after the brutal loss of Cheryl Anne Joe in 1992. The tragedy of her young life was one too many for the community and the first march took place in response.
The women who started this march, did so at a time when there was no public awareness, or support from any level of government. This was not the cause célèbre it is often seen as now. Women had things thrown at them while marching. There have been years when vehicles have tried to plow through the marchers, and still women were going missing. They have never stopped marching, or organizing.
Now, 27 years since the senseless loss of her life, Cheryl Anne Joe’s legacy is now an international movement to end the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
There are marches across the country, into the US and there is solidarity felt from as far as Juarez, Mexico.
There was a public Inquiry in BC and there is currently a National Inquiry being undertaking on the issue, both largely as a result the Memorial March and the relentless efforts by the Memorial March committee advocating to end the conditions that result in women’s vulnerability.
The theme of the march is captured in the statement “Their Spirits Live Within Us”.
And that is never more evident than in our collective love for our next generation.
For that reason alone, we must continue.
I hope you’ll join us next year.
All my relations,