No More Silence

I remember it vividly. Social class, 2007. Our teacher, Mr. P., was always great at starting class conversations and he was teaching us about World War II, and The Holocaust. I remember thinking about how ridiculous it was that the Nazi’s were able to “get so far” with their hate and that so many people died. It was unfathomable. It still is. I remember thinking to myself that people should have “done something sooner”. “Why didn’t people speak out against it?“. “I would.” Of course, people were. Good people. I also remember the message that we learned at an even younger age, “why do we have to learn about history?” “So we can learn from it.

I was young, naive, and foolish. I found it inconceivable that something like that could touch us here in this day and age in Canada. I knew there were some racists out there, but I had yet to really have any experiences myself. I looked around at my “diverse” (or so I thought at the time) classmates. Less than 15 of us in our class. Of varying backgrounds. We had the Cree kids from the reserve, and the farm kids from the country. We all got along really well. I loved my classmates and my teachers and high school was one of the best experiences for me. Again, I was an inexperienced kid and just didn’t know about the real world. I had very little knowledge of World Wide events. Everyone didn’t have Facebook quite yet (hello, Nexopia), no iPhones, and our limited free time that we did spend online was chatting on msn messenger (at dial-up internet speeds).

Fast forward a decade. 2017. I have more experience. I have seen, experienced, and heard some horrible things. With Facebook, news travels as fast as our fingers can move. With the recent Charlottesville protests, it is quite clear that the hatred surrounding Second World War is very much alive. It’s terrifying. I cry for 17-year-old me. I cry for my daughter. I stay up late thinking about it. I whisper with my husband at night discussing it. Long drives with my sister talking about our disbelief, anger, disgust at the White Supremacists. Shock in the US President. Private discussions where no one can hear us. Then I realize that that is how hate groups gain momentum. Passiveness. Being “hush hush” about it. Looking the other way. Pretending it’s not happening. The mentality that “it’s not affecting me directly so I don’t need to do or say anything” OR “I don’t need to say anything because obviously I’m against the White Supremacists, because I’m not white” OR “Other people with louder and more important voices will speak out.” I’ve noticed a lot of silence on this topic via Social Media, and in-person with people. There seems to be a “don’t talk about it” attitude, and I noticed I wasn’t talking about it either, unless it was with the two people closest to me. Or maybe people just don’t know? For the sake of Love, I think we do need to talk about and acknowledge it. For my daughter’s sake, I need to acknowledge it. No more pretending it’s not happening and sticking our heads in the sand. Jimmy Fallon said it best when he stated that it was important for people to speak out, that ignoring it is as good as supporting it. That spoke to me.

How would I explain to Alba when she’s older that I didn’t speak out? In my minds eye, I see us having conversations, and I hope I can tell her I was stronger than I am. Less scared. More brave. Condemning the bad, instead of quietly watching it unfold, unknowingly in the middle of it. These groups also exist in Canada and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. So here I am, for my sake, my daughters sake, and for the future, speaking out. Raising awareness, and saying that it’s so very wrong. Opening the conversation. When Alba asks, “Mama, what did you do when the White Supremacists had their rallies with their torches blazing and their Nazi flags flying?” I can say with confidence that I spoke out against them, instead of whispering behind closed doors about it. It breaks my heart that this is happening in her lifetime, and I pray and will work towards a less intolerant future for her, full of more compassion, love, understanding, and acceptance.

I have hope.

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 – Claudine Bull

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27th Annual Feb 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March

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.

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Being a part of the annual February 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March is best described in similar ways.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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There are marches across the country, into the US and there is solidarity felt from as far as Juarez, Mexico.

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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.

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The theme of the march is captured in the statement “Their Spirits Live Within Us”.

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And that is never more evident than in our  collective love for our next generation.

For that reason alone, we must continue.

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I hope you’ll join us next year.

All my relations,

Jessica Wood
~Sii Sityaawks

*For more images of this years march, be sure to follow Jessica on Instagram & facebook.
Galleries will be posted on her website shortly.

#BlackLivesMatter

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This is an open letter to my Indigenous Community,

I’m asking for solidarity for #BlackLivesMatter. To stop appropriating this hashtag to announce that Indigenous lives are just as important, because we feel the parallel systemic violence on top of colonial land violence.

This is not a time to try and prove who has been hurt worse or more often or for how long. This will not stop the pain and will not bring you comfort. This is a time for #IndigenousSolidarity.

I work on issues related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and have for over a decade. At a time when NOONE was taking us seriously, when our numbers were denied as not “real” statistics. When we called for allyship and solidarity…. We heard many of the same derailment tactics: That white women face domestic violence too, that if we handled ourselves differently, dressed differently, did not struggle with addiction, moved from the res, moved from the city, moved from the neighbourhood, didn’t antagonize the police, the social worker, the border guard, the transit police, the RCMP, then we would be ok. This is a falsehood intended to implicate us in our own oppression.

These are tactics used to take us away from the truth that violence is being done to us in genocidal numbers and we must not use these tactics now to contribute to the derailment of #BlackLivesMatter.

Because #BlackLivesMatter. Period.

We are not just an Indigenous community, but a community that is mixed blood…. Our history, oppression and future and that of the black community are not isolated from one another, nor is our potential for emancipation.

Our communities share ancestors and babies…. We are family. Think of your mixed race brothers and sisters, nieces and nephew, aunties and uncles, our parents and partners. We are community. How many of our youth and artists have found meaning and empowerment through black culture? Through black leaders, through black music?

It’s time we as Indigenous communities support black lives, and not simply take meaning from black culture. We know what it feels like to have our culture appropriated, while the oppression and injustice is omitted. We know what it is to constantly demand to have our lives recognized as human and our deaths to be taken seriously and treated with the gravity they deserve. We need to acknowledge that we know what this is, and to consciously choose to stand in solidarity against this kind of oppression.

Take this moment to examine racism within our own Indigenous communities. How are we complicit? It’s time to decide if we want to have more in common with those that share our oppression, or with our shared oppressors. Racism is not our tradition.

I understand that we are hurting, for so many same reasons: systemic violence resulting in injury, death, public execution, child apprehension and incarceration. But we did not see the hashtag #BlackIdleNoMore did we? No, that would not be ok. That would negate our struggle, that would silence our point, our position, our movement in a weird oppression competition.

So it’s time to stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.

Right now, in North America, Black lives are being taken in public executions by police and this must stop. It’s insane. Why would we want to derail that?

Here’s what I’m asking you to do:

  1. Hold space for #BlackLivesMatter: to mourn, hurt, be quiet, be angry for all the feelings, for all the words, for all the silences.
  2. Stop the appropriation of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This includes speaking up and against the hashtag alllivesmat@#… #NativeLivesMatt@#… Etc.
  3. Interrupt and engage those in your own circles/ workplaces/ social media who dismiss the real pain and resistance efforts of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This is not a time to be silent.
  1. Understand that the violence you may be aware of now, is not new and is symptomatic of colonialism, racism and white privilege and what is new is the collective international resistance to the violence against and public execution of people of color by police.
  2. #SayTheirNames
  3. Say #BlackLivesMatter

Believe it.

~Jessica Wood.