By Manahil Hassan, February 25 2020—
On Feb. 14, the 12th annual Women’s Memorial March took place at the Scarboro United Church at 6:30 p.m. Supporters, friends, family and proud members of the Indigenous community wore red to show their support for the murdered and missing Indigenous women not only in Calgary, but in Canada as well.
The evening began with a pre-ceremonial song, sung in rounds in three to welcome every supporter to the circle. As described by the host of the event, Chantal Stromsong, the song allowed for individuals in the room to honour not only their ancestors but acknowledge the differences between their peers. The evening ensued with a prayer led by Elder Jackie Bronley encouraging onlookers to commemorate and remember their loved ones and pray for those that had gone missing. With light refreshments in the hands of the supporters, an honour song was sung by not only the host of the event, but by mothers, friends and family who grieved and honoured their lost family members. As each onlooker prepared for the annual 20-minute march, men in the room were encouraged to take the Moose-Hide pledge to participate in the campaign to help end the violence against women and children and to speak up and defend those who are unable to do so for themselves.
The march itself started from Scarboro United Church, went through 14th Street and finally along 17th Avenue. Members were given the choice of holding drums to play while partaking in the honour song while others were provided with the opportunity to hold a person in red. With the person in red feeling heavier as everyone walked, supporters were encouraged to respect and remember the struggle of members of the Indigenous community who not only experienced grave losses but were also suffering.
The annual memorial marches first began in 1992 in the Downtown EastSide in Vancouver. After the body of Cheryl Anne Joe was found dismembered near the Powell and Salisbury streets in the city, a group of First Nations women were determined to march every year to shed light onto the violence and brutality that Indigenous women and girls experience so often. Now, cities all over Canada have begun to participate and arrange their own annual memorial marches for Indigenous women. For many, these events are paramount to remember their sisters and do justice for them through traditional ceremonies and beautiful but powerful displays of their culture and tradition.
There have been many reports conducted which reported the violence against defenceless women and children. A study conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found that approximately 1,200 women were murdered or went missing from 1980–2012. Another study done by the Native American Women’s Association reported that between 2000 and 2008, Aboriginal women and girls represented around ten per cent of all female homicides when Aboriginal women only made up around three percent of the female population.
It is statistics like this that drive many people to come attend these marches and empathize with grieving family members and friends. One participant named Brennan Wares has attended these marches for five years and believes these marches “Bring light […] on how big of an issue this is.”