A small group of Indigenous people and allies gathered in Victoria’s Centennial Square Saturday to draw attention to the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Another group rallied at Simms Millennium Park in Courtenay.
Similar rallies have been occurring across the country, as people grow tired of the federal government’s inaction on implementing recommendations made by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) nearly two years ago.
The efforts started March 13 with sending messages to Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett asking the federal government to enact the 231 individual calls for justice contained in the report following the national inquiry into Canada’s disproportionate rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The plan now is to gather each Saturday until the government responds.
“The biggest thing is we need to be heard right now,” said Logan Clifford, an organizer of the Courtenay event. “We come together as a community.”
With only a couple dozen people in attendance in Victoria, one man who had recently moved to Canada, asked the Indigenous elder present what allies can do to help.
“Stand up and speak,” she responded. “When you see an injustice being done, offer help. The biggest mistake we’ve ever made is not talking about it. It’s not acceptable to sit by idly.”
Another speaker addressed the physical and sexual abuse he has endured and emphasized the importance of telling people what’s going on. He then asked those circled around him to share what they were feeling.
“Sadness, anger, outrage,” some people responded.
Multiple allies expressed anger with the government, and the Indigenous elder agreed, but reminded them that just like they must hold the government accountable, they must too hold themselves to the same standards.
“When we leave here today, what are we going to do to enact change?”
The federal government originally committed to releasing an action plan on MMIWG in June 2020, but has since delayed it citing the pandemic. The Final Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls can be read at mmiwg-ffada.ca.
With gatherings restricted due to the pandemic, Clifford says they are encouraging people to display red or show support for MMIWG2S on social media, or perhaps take part in driveways at home.
While many might be familiar with tragedies such as the missing women from the Highway of Tears on Highway 16 through northern B.C. or from the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, the problem is more widespread. Clifford said the pandemic of the last year has only worsened the situation, with Indigenous women being between six and 10 times more likely to go missing and unreported.
“Everything has gone up right now,” she said.
She also said B.C. has the highest percentage of cases in Canada, at 27 per cent, while Alberta is second with 19 per cent. At the same, when someone is reported missing, the case is not viewed in the same way as one from the general population. Across the country, the estimates, she says, are about 4,000 women who have disappeared over the last 30 years, or one woman approximately every 2.5 days, at least of the cases that are known.
“Our cases are not being heard or put to light,” she said. “We’re in 2021. We shouldn’t still be fighting for basic rights…. We just want to be equal.”
|Belinda Cameron has been missing from the Victoria area since May 2005. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
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