The British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry may be holding hearings across Canada about the investigation of serial killer William Pickton, but that has not solved the disappearances and murders of more than 700 aboriginal women nationwide.
October 4 is the day that Sisters in Spirit, the initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) that first documented and totted up statistics on the overwhelming proportion of aboriginal women subject to violence compared to the rest of the population, has designated to honor the fallen and disappeared. Thus on this day, from Prince Edward Island to Haida territory, at least 60 vigils are being held by activist groups and victims’ families to commemorate the more than 720 women, according to the NWAC’s website. It was the sixth year that this vigil has been held.
There was the event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, where a Unity March began that wended its way to Victoria Island, led by the NWAC, Amnesty International Canada and other groups. There they held a feast and celebration. Likewise, around the country, dozens of communities small and large did the same.
“The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented more than 600 cases of aboriginal women and girls who have been murdered or who remain missing,” the NWAC and several other groups said in a joint statement that was read at every vigil, quoting one of the more conservative estimates. “This violence has touched the lives of almost every First Nations, Inuit and Métis family and community. And it has moved Canadians from all walks of life to demand action.”
The groups called for a comprehensive, cohesive plan to eliminate such violence, including improving public awareness and accountability; funding the organizations that provide assistance to indigenous girls and women; address root causes of violence, especially by closing the economic gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, and eliminate inequities in the child-welfare system so as to better serve aboriginal children.
“There can be no piecemeal solution to a tragedy of this scale,” the NWAC and its affiliates said. “We are calling for all levels of government to work with aboriginal women and representative organizations to establish a comprehensive, national plan of action to stop violence against women.”
NWAC was joined by Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Families of Sisters In Spirit (FSIS) KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, Minwaashin Lodge, National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Area: Work, Educate and Resists (POWER) and Project of Heart
The events capped the annual 30 Days of Justice campaign, organized by Families of Sisters in Spirit, to raise awareness of the issue while honoring the women’s memories and demanding a cessation of violence toward aboriginal women.
See Indian Country Today Media Network’s coverage of this issue by Valerie Taliman.