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Honouring their memory remains important tribute
Candles flickered brightly as stories of loss and remembrance were shared among the 80 people that gathered in Vancouver to pay tribute to lost Aboriginal women Oct. 4.
The community candlelight vigil, held in East Vancouver’s Crab Park, was one of many events held across Canada, marking the country’s National Day of Remembrance for missing and murdered Indigenous women. The vigil was hosted by Vancouver Aboriginal advocacy groups, the Aboriginal Front Door and Butterflies in Spirit. The event attracted family and friends of some of the missing and murdered women, community activists and local First Nations leaders.
Calling the number of missing and murdered women “an embarrassment to Canada,” Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) Grand Chief Stewart Phillip participated in the chilly evening gathering.
“I’m proud to say that the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs has walked in solidarity with the Downtown Eastside women’s groups, the Highway of Tears women’s groups and the Native Women’s Association of Canada for many, many, many years,” Phillip said.
“Whenever the occasion arises for us to come out and demonstrate our solidarity, we certainly step forward for this very important issue… and [we] have done our utmost through resolutions, political support and drawing public attention to this national disgrace known as the missing and murdered women issue,” he added.
He applauded frontline women’s groups for bringing the issue to the fore.
“The marches, the candlelight vigils, the political work has broadened the basis of support for this issue,” he said.
“I don’t think that there’s any question that over the last several years, through the dedication and commitment of various women’s groups, that the profile of this issue has been raised to the point where it is now the subject of attention of the United Nations itself,” added Phillip.
But while the government is “beginning to feel the presence and are beginning to react,” Phillip stressed that “absolutely more must be done.”
Calling the Wally Oppal Commission of Inquiry on the Missing and Murdered Women an “absolute farce,” he said the absence of provincial funding that should have been given to help ad-hoc women’s groups obtain legal support during the hearing but wasn’t was nothing short of racism.
“There was an opportunity to accomplish some good work and [the inquiry] was a complete debacle,” Phillip said, adding that efforts are underway to bring about a Royal Commission of Inquiry.
“The tragic dimension of this issue is that there is no one serial killer,” said Phillip. “There are lot of sick, depraved men out there that continue to prey on vulnerable women, Aboriginal women and other women who live on the margins of society. We have to be vigilant, we have to continue to stand and say that this is completely unacceptable,” he said. “We expect some effort to be made,” concluded Phillip.
“It is with a heavy heart that we think of these women and that we continue to lobby to the government to ensure and examine what is really going wrong with our judicial system and the operations with the RCMP and the Vancouver City Police in relation to the missing and murdered women,” said Bob Chamberlin, vice president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, who also attended the vigil.
“The police have got to do more work out there,” said Beatrice Starr, a volunteer for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre. “They don’t really put much investigation into it when it is murder,” she added.
“A lot of Aboriginal people that get murdered down here, they never find who kills them. They don’t care. It’s just another Aboriginal,” she said.
Starr’s sister Alice was found dead in a Downtown Eastside hotel in 1996.
“The coroner passed it off as [death by] alcohol because both of them were alcoholics,” Starr said of Alice and her boyfriend.
But Starr said her family has always suspected foul-play due to circumstances surrounding her sister’s death.
Alice, 32, was a mother of four and “kind-hearted,” Starr said during the rally. “She would have been a grandma now,” she added quietly.
“All of these women that have passed on, they deserve to rest in peace with the Creator,” said a woman who was sitting in front of a memorial of candles, smoldering sage, flowers and makeshift placards adorned with the names and faces of lost Aboriginal women.
Dag, who requested we not publish her last name, said the vigil represents a way to honor the lives of women and provides an opportunity to gather in unity and strength.
“We have to celebrate the memories of the missing and murdered women,” she said.
“There are a lot of really harsh feelings and there is lot of bitterness and sorrow,” she acknowledged. “But Aboriginals are binding really tightly together and it’s really important that they do because we are all here to honor each other as sisters, Aboriginal or not… we have to honor each other,” she said.
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