Hundreds of people came together in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Friday for the 29th annual memorial for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Family of victims and community members gathered for a private memorial at 10:30 a.m., with the general public invited to join the march at Main and Hastings scheduled for noon.
Organizers say the event started in 1992 in response to the murder of a woman on Powell Street in Vancouver.
“Out of this sense of hopelessness and anger came an annual march on Valentine’s Day to express compassion, community and caring for all women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“Indigenous women disproportionately continue to go missing or be murdered with minimal to no action to address these tragedies or the systemic nature of gendered violence, poverty, racism, or colonialism.”
Participants in the women-led march were asked to leave political signs and banners at home, though they were invited to bring materials honouring women’s lives.
The marchers made multiple stops along the downtown route for ceremonies to honour where women were last seen or were found, before returning to Main and Hastings.
Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark, the MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant and a First Nations woman herself, said seeing so many people turn out for the march was heartwarming for the community — but said the day is still filled with sadness.
“Indigenous women are more disposable than any other race in this country,” she said. “It’s disgusting to know that my people are more likely to go missing, to be murdered, and to face violence in their lives. We need to put a stop to it.
The provincial government itself has pointed out that Indigenous women and girls are more than three times more likely to experience domestic and other forms of violence than non-Indigenous women.
The homicide rate for Indigenous women is seven times higher, according to the province.
“Today, let us join in remembering them, and resolve to work together toward a future in which Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit and gender-diverse people feel safe, secure and equal in every community in this province,” read a statement from Premier John Horgan, Mark and other members of the B.C. government.
Attendance at the annual event is expected to be particularly high this year, with the march falling during a wave of Indigenous rights protests that have sprung up in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs fighting a contentious pipeline through their traditional territory in northern B.C.
Supporters of the hereditary chiefs have frequently cited the issue of violence against Indigenous women in their campaign, raising concerns about the presence of construction crew “man camps” and citing the findings of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
A group of activists blockading the West Coast Express line packed up camp Friday morning citing their intention to join the march.