People have marched through Vancouver to honour Indigenous women and girls who were murdered or disappeared over the past decades across Canada, and demand concrete action to address the problem.
The annual march through the city’s downtown east side – now in its 31st year – “is an opportunity to come together to grieve the loss of our beloved sisters, remember the women who are still missing, and to dedicate ourselves to justice”, organisers said.
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Marches and virtual events also will be held on Monday in other Canadian cities, including Montreal, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.
“Many Indigenous women, girls, trans and Two-Spirit people wonder if they will be next. This can’t go on,” the organisers of a rally in Montreal wrote on Facebook. Two-spirit is a term used by some Indigenous people to express their gender and spiritual identity.
Indigenous communities have sounded the alarm for years over the disproportionately high number of women and girls who have been killed or disappeared in Canada, as well as decried systemic inaction on the part of government and law enforcement agencies to address the issue.
— Ontario Native Women's Association (@_ONWA_) February 14, 2022
In 2014, the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reported (PDF) that nearly 1,200 Indigenous women had been murdered or gone missing between 1980 and 2012 – but advocates say the real number was likely much higher.
Amid widespread calls for accountability and action to stem the violence, the Canadian government in 2016 launched a National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
In its final report (PDF) in 2019, the inquiry found that the violence “amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples” that especially targets women, girls and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. “This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures … leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations,” it said.
In a statement on Monday, Canada’s Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said the federal government was working through a national action plan – the Federal Pathway (PDF) – “to end the violence and systemic racism that are at the root cause of this issue”.
“As we commemorate families and Survivors of heinous and senseless acts of violence, it is important to reflect on what still needs to be accomplished to prevent such acts from occurring again and how we can better support survivors in their recovery and families and communities in their grief,” Miller said in a statement.
In last year’s budget, Ottawa pledged $2.2bn Canadian ($1.73bn) over five years, and $160.9m Canadian ($126.37m) ongoing to address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S+ people.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June also pledged to direct more resources to First Nations police and address systemic racism, among other measures, in an effort to prevent violence.
But Indigenous advocates have pressed the government to take more concrete action to address the problem – and fully acknowledge the inquiry’s 2019 finding that a “genocide” has taken place.
“Indigenous women in Canada today are seven times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be a victim of murder and three times more likely to be violently or sexually assaulted,” the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) said in a report (PDF) last year that outlined 65 concrete steps it wants to see taken.
Those steps include funding a programme to prevent human trafficking, addressing economic marginalisation of Indigenous women, and developing a government compensation fund for survivors and affected families.
Did you know that today is a Day of Action and Memorial for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Two-Spirit and Trans people? Please take a moment today to reflect on the lives that have been taken far too soon. #MMIWG2ST https://t.co/xB3vnFVA76
— NWAC (@NWAC_CA) February 14, 2022