Marching through Montreal for missing and murdered

Eleventh annual march generated awareness of systematic violence and honoured the indigenous women who have passed

Hundreds gathered early Tuesday night near Place Émile-Gamelin in downtown Montreal. After a solemn opening prayer and a series of speeches, the throngs of people mobilized down Ste. Catherine Street, commencing the 11th annual  memorial march for missing and murdered indigenous women.

The event was organized by the Centre for Gender Advocacy, an independent, student-funded organization. The goal of the annual march, is to honour the memories of indigenous women and girls, and to raise awareness about the systemic nature of the violence against indigenous people.

Outlined by the ethereal glow of candlelight, the sea of faces advanced down the streets, chanting tirelessly to the beat of hide drums. Many supporters carried signs honouring indigenous victims of violence and expressing solidarity.

Guided by a police escort, the march snaked its way through Montreal’s Ville-Marie borough, stopping briefly on the steps of the Ministère de la Justice building and concluding in front of the Notre-Dame Basilica.

Investigations into the treatment of indigenous women in Canada, suggest these women are disproportionately affected by violence and discrimination. According to one Canadian government statistic, 16 per cent of all murdered women in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were indigenous, making up for only four per cent of the total female population.

On Sept. 1, the Canadian government launched an independent national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. The purpose of the inquiry is to examine and report on systemic causes behind the violence experienced by indigenous women and girls. This inquiry was a cause for both celebration and skepticism at Tuesday night’s march.

“We have recently heard that there was an announcement for the launching of the national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women,” said Stacey Gomez, the Centre for Gender Advocacy’s action coordinator, at the vigil. “We want to draw attention to the ongoing limitations of this inquiry and echo the calls for a Quebec-specific inquiry.”

A Quebec-specific inquiry, Gomez explained, would more effectively address the unique problems faced by indigenous women in Quebec, such as the alleged sexual abuse and assault of aboriginal women by Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers in Val-d’Or. The instances of abuse, which were uncovered by a team of investigative reporters at Radio-Canada last year, led to the suspension of the officers involved, and revealed a widespread mistreatment of indigenous women by the SQ. In August, the Quebec government decided against launching their own investigation into the allegations, instead leaving it to the broader national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women, according to CBC News.

Gomez suggested for people to become more educated towards the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. “I see an increased awareness of the specific issue, both in the media and in the general public.”

After marching for an hour, the crowd reached its final destination and coalesced beneath the statue of Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve. Under the watchful gaze of the Iroquois hunter, the final speakers were presented, and then the crowd gradually dispersed.

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