A group of 50 people marked Valentine’s Day in Kelonwa Thursday with a short vigil on the steps of the courthouse downtown. They were there to remember aboriginal women who have gone missing in B.C.
The crowd, made up mostly of women, was told it’s time to end violence against women and that the missing should not be thought of as statistics, but rather as human beings—mothers, sisters and even grandmothers, all of whom were loved and have left behind people who now grieve their loss.
“Think of each of them as a person who had a life, whatever that life was, and they were loved,” said speaker Edna Terbasket.
The gathering, the second annual Women’s Memorial Vigil in Kelowna, featured several speakers, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, including RCMP Const. Kris Clark.
Clark said he was honoured to be asked to attend. and speak.
Keeping his remarks brief, he said he wanted to reassure those who were gathered outside the courthouse, as well as everyone else in the community, that the police take the issue of violence against women, and the individual cases of missing aboriginal women in B.C., very seriously.
Recently, the RCMP in northern B.C. has come under fire by an American human rights group for alleged cases of abuse by officers against aboriginal women in several communities.
“I’m here to offer the RCMP’s support,” Clark told the gathering, adding while the issue of missing women has been centred on northern B.C., along the so-called Highway of Tears, and in the downtown eastside area of Vancouver in the past, violence against women is a concern across B.C. and across Canada.
Kelowna city Coun. Mohini Singh, another invited speaker, urged the crowd to make Thursday “the first day of the long journey” in ending violence against women.
Doing so, she said, will make the community stronger and a stronger community would lead to a stronger province and a stronger country.
For some in attendance, the issue being highlighted by the vigil was also a personal one.
Stephanie Mason, an aboriginal woman from North Vancouver, who now lives in Westbank, said she experienced violence first hand, having been in an abusive relationship for several years in the past.
She said as a mother of three daughters, her biggest fear is that one of them would be hurt or go missing.
She feels more awareness is needed and men have to role to play, not just in stopping being violent themselves but also in stopping other men.
It was a message echoed by her friend Nadine Jules, a member of the Westbank First Nation.
“We need to strengthen our (aboriginal) men,” she said, adding while men have to learn that women are not “property,” women also have to educate themselves about safety.
She said she had a friend from high school who was 20 when she went missing while hitchhiking alone in Northern B.C.. The young woman’s remains were later in a forest, said Jules.
Also in the crowd was Dewayne Robinson, a former RCMP officer from Bella Bella and Smithers who was part of the early investigation into missing aboriginal women in northern B.C.
Now a drug and alcohol counsellor at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre in Kelowna, he said said it’s time for everyone to tackle the issue of violence against women.
“It’s time to stand up and say enough is enough,” said Robinson.