Scores of people, many clad in red, gathered at Vancouver City Hall on Wednesday to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Similar events were held across Canada and the United States, and supporters hung red dresses from trees and structures to symbolize the lost lives of the victims.
May 5 is Red Dress Day, a national day to bring attention to the more than 1,000 Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered in the last three decades.
The risk of an Indigenous woman or girl going missing is as much as 10 times higher than in the non-indigenous population.
“We want to raise awareness about the injustice our women are faced with,” Diana Day, lead matriarch with the Pacific Association of First Nations Women told Global News.
“It’s racism and discrimination. It’s colonization that’s led to the normalization of the violence against our women. It’s been normalized.”
At the Vancouver ceremony, speakers shared stories of personal trauma and anguish at the mothers, daughters, sisters and friends they’d lost.
They also shared anger at Canada’s slow pace in response to the issue.
It was a sentiment shared by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Wednesday, which issued a statement slamming the Canadian government for inaction and delays “in an ongoing humanitarian crisis that is fueled by violence, discrimination and apathy.”
“In our mission to unite against and combat the systemic violence and discrimination that are stealing the lives of our Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited individuals, we must not let government-led commitments, plans, and policies overshadow the vibrant lives lost to the tragedy — these lives are the heartbeat, the driving force behind all that we do,” Melissa Moses, UBCIC women’s representative said.
Both British Columbia and the federal government have held inquiries into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, but Indigenous groups say they have been slow to implement their recommendations.
The federal government promised a National Action Plan on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women by June 2020, but the plan has since been delayed.
“The public only knows half of the story, they only see the social things we have happening in our community, they don’t understand the colonization, the effects it had on our people and the trauma our people have been under for hundreds of years, and the intergenerational trauma as well,” Day said.
“There are allies out there, and thank you to all of those allies that are educating themselves to our history because it’s not taught in schools.”
There are signs that that is changing, if slowly.
At Coquiltam’s Dr. Charles Best Secondary, students hung red dresses outside the school on Wednesday.
“Every life matters, and when it comes to this we need to put more effort into it,” student Ellisa White, who learned about MMWIG in a social justice course, told Global News.