Today is International Women’s Day and as part of this celebration, women across the world will be protesting the economic, social and political discrimination they face on a daily basis.
In the past few weeks, there has been a huge spotlight on the plight of American women in regards to the Trump Administration. With that in mind, the Calgary Journal wanted to shine a spotlight on the plight Indigenous women in Canada are grappling with by taking a look back at last month’s annual Women’s Memorial March.
On Feb. 14, 2017 several cities, including Calgary, played host to those marches. They aim to bring awareness to violence and murder against Indigenous women in Canada. The first Memorial March took place in 1992 in response to the murder of an Indigenous woman in Vancouver BC. Since then, cities across the nation have held events to honour missing and murdered women.
In Calgary, the Women’s Memorial March has been hosted by Scarboro Church for seven years. This past Valentine’s Day, the ceremony before the march filled the church with not only members of the Indigenous community, but many other Calgarians. Several of the 450 participants carried silhouettes on bright red placards to represent a murdered or missing Indigenous woman.
“You’re not just carrying a placard, you’re carrying someone’s life, someone’s story,” event organizer Chantal Chagnon said. “It’s one thing to look at a whole bunch of statistics...but it’s very different when you hear those stories because they impact your heart,” Chagnon said.
By bringing their stories to light, the march honors the lives that were lost. It also seeks hopes of justice for the loved ones that are left to carry on their stories.
Moving on while carrying the weight of loss
Stephanie English, who was among the marchers, is still grieving the deaths in her own family, but she is trying her best to remain positive.
“It’s one thing to look at a whole bunch of statistics...but it’s very different when you hear those stories because they impact your heart.” - Chantal Chagnon
Last June, English’s daughter Joey was murdered and dismembered in Crescent Heights. All of her body parts have still not been found. A year earlier, English lost her other daughter to what RCMP concluded was a suicide.
“You give birth to children, try to bring them up in a good way. You fight tooth and nail as a parent for the betterment of your children, and both doors get slammed, then where do I go? I gotta keep on going. I gotta keep moving forward.”
Coping with the void left by her children was especially hard when English celebrated her grandchildren’s birthdays without their mother. English said she misses her daughters every day, but she is learning to “put one foot in front of the other.”
“For me to try and have closure and peace within myself, it’s tough. The thing is, I don’t lose my faith because that’s who I am. I’m a Blackfoot woman.”
Men at the march
Though the event focussed heavily on women, stories from men were also featured to bring awareness to violence against all Indigenous people.
Jimmy Crowshoe, a single father, spoke about the case of his son, Colton Crowshoe, who went missing in July 2014. Crowshoe talked about the difficulties he encountered when the authorities offered little assistance; a feat he said that Indigenous people encounter all too often.
“We talked to the cops, and they said maybe he’s out drinking, or out with another woman,” said Crowshoe.
Three weeks later, Colton’s body was found in a pond by Stoney Trail and 16th Avenue, on July 24, 2014.
“Sometimes I think about why can’t we all be equal. Sometimes I [wonder] about that every day,” said Crowshoe.
The Turning Robe Singers, two male drummers, also shared their story. Their aunt, who raised them both, died for reasons still unknown to them. The men sang The Honour Song, a tune that has been passed down in their family, to pay tribute to the lives that have been lost.
Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes, a victim of domestic violence, acknowledges that despite her past “men are part of the solution; it’s not just the justice system. It’s men who need to step up and be there for the women. And we have good men.”
Some men have even taken a pledge with the Moose Hide Campaign. By wearing a square of moose hide, the men pledge to protect and take a stand against violence towards Indigenous women.
A time of reconciliation
Despite the stories of trauma and loss behind the march, there was an emphasis on healing from Cindy Provost, who has worked as a police officer with the Calgary Police Service for almost 20 years.
“We’re living in the time of reconciliation right now,” Provost said. “In the true spirit of reconciliation, the call is to action.”
As a Blackfoot woman from the Piikani Nation, Provost acknowledged that it would take several more generations to recover from the effects of domestic violence and intergenerational trauma, but there is healing that exists in community.
The call to action includes communities transitioning from “lateral violence to lateral kindness,” helping one another and working together in unison to seek solutions.
Although support systems are currently offered to Indigenous people, Provolt stressed the need for a cultural approach to problem solving, such as prayer and music, to provide the healing they need.
Provolt hopes to work towards these changes as she makes her own transition to the role of Indigenous Strategist.
Looking towards change
With this year’s 450 person turnout being the best yet (up from 200 in 2013), Chagnon said the march has grown as more people have become aware of the issue. She specifically points to how the Canadian federal government has conducted a national pre-inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. Despite this step forward there is still a lot to be done.
Lee Spice is the reverend at Scarboro Church, which provides the venue for the Women’s Memorial March. Spice’s father experienced residential school systems first hand, so she is aware of the deep-rooted hurt and damage caused by intergenerational trauma.
“When we march for missing and murdered indigenous women, that is a sign it is not completely healed, and it’s going to take many generations for healing to happen,” Spice said. “Hopefully someday we won’t have to do this.”
Though progress is underway, Canada’s ongoing challenge to address this issue is evident in the incomplete account of murdered and missing Indigenous women. According to a 2014 RCMP report, there are 1,200 murdered or missing Indigenous women in Canada, but this is just the tip of iceberg.
In the face of such a massive problem, Chagnon continues to focus on the hope for change.
“There’s so many intricacies, there’s so many different stories, there’s so many different ways that justice could be served...” Chagnon said. “It seems like a monumental task, it’s huge, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
- By Andrea Wong and Christine O'Brien