Aboriginal women in Canada don’t have to be leading a high risk lifestyle to become prey to people with violent intent, said speakers at Kelowna’s fifth annual memorial vigil for missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Speaking outside the Kelowna courthouse to a crowd of about 50 people on Sunday, Harron Hall, a cousin of murder victim Roxanne Louie, talked about how she could easily be among the statistics brought forward that day.
Simply because of the colour of her skin, she’s been reduced to stereotypes and mistreated by men she’s never met, she told the crowd.
The inequities dealt to aboriginal women is something Hall has described time and again in the months since her cousin was killed.
She’s used her voice as a strong aboriginal woman to also draw attention to systemic shortcomings that appeared as the investigation into her cousin’s disappearance got underway in January of 2015.
“Both the initial response from the media and the RCMP speak to the marginalization of indigenous women. As a family we were appalled when the RCMP spokesperson portrayed Roxanne as another Indian woman just out partying. This dismissed the urgency of the situation and very real concerns her family had for her safety,” Hall said, in an interview.
“These concerns were very well articulated to both RCMP and media.”
While the frustration many felt at the event was palpable, the gathering was also a time for healing and a moment to express hope.
Aboriginal drums and song underscored the speeches—some of which touched upon solutions to the problems at hand.
“Today is one of those days…one of the most important days for me,” said Mary Song, event co-organizer.
“I have been at this event for the last four years and I have two dearly loved ones who are still missing today. And these two people hold a place in my heart so dear…that I pray for their families to get answers.
“I pray for their sisters, their children and all their families to gain the answers they deserve.”
To be able to know the answers of what happened to their loved ones, said Song, will allow those left behind to heal.
“Thank you for being here today and being present with us to make sure the inquiry is going to happen and these (questions) are going to be answered,” Song said.
The RCMP released a report nearly two years ago concluding there were 1,181 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls dating from 1980 to 2012, including 1,017 homicides and 164 missing persons.
Last year the numbers were updated to include 32 new homicides within RCMP jurisdiction from 2013 to 2014, as well as 11 new cases of missing indigenous women.
For many, those figures fell far short of addressing what is really happening in aboriginal communities, prompting a persistent call for an inquiry, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he would do, when he was campaigning for election.
On Monday, the Liberal government wrapped up the consultation phase of its promised national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Ottawa.
At a press conference held Wednesday, Canada’s minister for the status of women said the “depth and breadth of this tragedy is more than we thought.”
In another interview, Patty Hajdu pegged the number of missing or murdered women at closer to 4,000.
Within the next budget Hajdu said there will be measures to address some of the issues that fuel the violence, noting it wouldn’t be right to wait for a two-year inquiry to conclude.
At the weekend vigil, Kelowna city councillor Mohini Singh said she hoped that all people would start taking the issue seriously today.
“This is not just a women’s issue, it’s a society issue,” she said.
“Today you and I have the power to change society and make it a better place. Please join me to work together to put an end to the cycle of violence.”