Healing together: Montreal Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women memorial raises awareness

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A gathering for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) was held at Montreal’s Native Friendship Centre February 14, and marked the 27th year of memorials for MMIWG across Canada.

Words and songs of support for the safety of Indigenous, trans and two-spirit members of the community were offered to a crowd of more than 100 students, youth, families and Elders.

Stories of personal loss, struggle and assault were shared during the evening to recognize and remember sisters, daughters, mothers and friends who have been victims of violence.

For organizer Dayna Danger, the programming and campaigns coordinator for the Centre for Gender Advocacy in Montreal, it was important to create a space for people to share and heal together.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect when you have an open forum,” she said. “But people were gracious with their time and spoke eloquently.”

Many have been affected by violence. “Everyone is touched, whether we want to be or not,” said Elder Emily Angnatuk.

This February marks the ninth year that the Centre for Gender Advocacy has held a MMIWG event. Across Canada, vigils were held in solidarity to honour of MMIWG and to seek justice for those lost by murder and violence.

Several men were present during the Montreal ceremony, some of whom expressed their concern and solidarity with victimized women.

“These are moments to recognize and affirm Indigenous women’s rights. It touches me as a human being and it’s something worth knowing more about,” said Mathieu Lévesque, a sociology student at the Université du Québec à Montréal. “It’s important to have the same justice for all.”

The gathering comes at a time when Indigenous rights and recognition have become more common in public discourse. Yet many question whether adequate action is being undertaken to honour and bring justice to stolen sisters.

In its 2014 report, Amnesty International wrote that Indigenous women are 3.5 times more likely to be victims of violence. In Canada, an RCMP-led study commissioned in 2013 reported that between 1980 and 2012, the total number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is estimated to be 1,181. The same study reported that Aboriginal women are three times more likely to be victims of violence.

Launched in 2016, the MMIWG commission is an independent inquiry to examine underlying factors behind the systematic abuse of Indigenous women and girls across Canada.

There are however, growing concerns that the commission is failing to meet expected deadlines to submit its report. Repeated delays of hearings and meetings have plagued the commission, which has requested an extension of several months to complete its inquiry. In their May 2017 report, the NWAC had already predicted that the commission would fail to meet its November 1, 2017, deadline.

Montreal journalist Emmanuelle Walter is the author of Stolen Sisters: The Story of Two Missing Girls, Their Families, and How Canada Has Failed Indigenous Women. She says that the death of 15-year-old Tina Lafontaine in Manitoba in 2014 and the Indigenous women of Val-d’Or speaking out about police abuse sparked a pervasive national and provincial debate regarding MMIWG.

“The federal inquiry has failed,” said Walter.

She notes however that the Quebec inquiry regarding the relationship between public institutions and Indigenous peoples, which started after the events in Val-d’Or, is going considerably better. “Provinces want to be part of the solution.”

Walter said that it’s important to remember that much more needs to be done. “The tragedy is not over at all.”

“It is outrageous, outrageous, outrageous,” said Jessica Quijano, the Iskweu project coordinator for the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. “It is outrageous that there are women in danger and we can’t send them anywhere because they use drugs.”

There has been a decline in federal and provincial aid for social services over the last several months. Quijano works closely with women sex workers and members of the trans community who are at the margins of violence.

“Two of whom have died since I began working with them last May,” Quijano told the gathering.

For Quijano, adequate shelters and harm-reduction services would help to create safe environments. “What is lacking is money,” she said, “the funding that never comes.”

Dayna Danger expanded on Quijano’s remarks.

“We need to speak openly about sex work in our community,” she emphasized. “At the end of the day, we have to give a voice back to a lot of Indigenous women and girls.”

For more info on the MMIWG Commission, visit www.mmiwg-ffada.ca.

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