Scores of people turned out in Abbotsford Saturday for a walk to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The Abbotsford event was one of more than 250 similar walks held across Canada, according to organizers.
The local event was spearheaded by Krista MacInnes, an Indigenous mother who forced an apology from the Abbotsford School District over a homework assignment asking students to research positive facts about Indian Residential Schools last fall.
MacInnes said Saturday’s event was partially in response to the discovery of the body Jana Williams, 28, near the Red River in Winnipeg on March 4.
Williams, who was pregnant, was found stuffed in a suitcase, MacInnes said.
In 2014, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine’s body was found submerged in the same river.
“How many many more mothers need to pull their babies bodies out of suitcases, rivers, ditches and garbage bags before this becomes a priority?” MacInnes asked.
“There is an ongoing genocide of First Nations women, children and two-spirit people here in Canada, and the government needs to stop desensitizing the country and its representatives to this issue.”
The federal government promised a National Action Plan on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women by June 2020, but the plan has since been delayed.
In December, the core working group for the plan, which includes dozens of Indigenous women, said “extensive work” was underway” on the plan “that will drive transformative change to end systemic racism and violence against First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA peoples.”
MacInnes said truly addressing the problems Indigenous women and girls face will require deep social change, including educating non-Indigenous people about the deeply entrenched systemic racism First Nations face and Canada’s history of oppression against Indigenous peoples.
“This is where we find racism fueled by ignorance stepping in,” she said.
“There was a time in history when we were not allowed to gather, we were not allowed to sing, we were not allowed to speak our language, we were not allowed to be First Nations, it was illegal.”
But MacInnes is hopeful that is changing, if slowly, noting a growing awareness of Indigenous issues and intolerance towards racism.
“The people of B.C. are amazing,” she said.
“Even if you’re not First Nations, you can still be an ally … speaking out against what’s wrong, standing up for what’s right, it’s colourless.”