Post-secondary institutions have a role to play when it comes to reminding the general public about murdered and missing Aboriginal women, according to Aboriginal leaders, educators and supporters who spoke at an awareness event held Friday, Feb. 14 at Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus.
“This event is about remembering these women, but it’s also about prevention,” said Gail Smith, the college’s Aboriginal transitions planner. “Educational institutions like Okanagan College have a role to play in prevention.”
More than 50 people gathered at the college on Valentine’s Day to take part in an event that honoured Aboriginal women and sought to promote awareness around issues of violence.
Smith noted that educating the general public about the history of violence against Aboriginal women in Canadian society plays an important role, and she encouraged employers as well to consider diversity in their own workforce.
One of the vital ways the college assists its Aboriginal student population is by providing a gathering place where students from all disciplines come together and share ideas – from academic to personal.
It was just that kind of experience that inspired Okanagan College Business student Tina Miller, a member of the Nisga’a Nation, to collaborate with fellow student Courtney Campbell to create a short video about the 500+ missing and murdered Aboriginal women and the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s call for a nationwide inquiry.
For Miller answering that call is highly personal.
“My mother was on East Hastings (in Vancouver) for the last 12 years of her life, and I visited her there every day and got to know many of her friends, and one of them ended up being one of Robert Pickton’s victims,” she told the crowd.
Norah Bowman-Broz, a professor of Women’s Studies at Okanagan College, noted that James Anaya, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, has also spoken in favour of a public inquiry.
“People should speak out and ask questions and fight against complicity,” Bowman-Broz said.
The Feb. 14 date was first set aside back in 1991 to acknowledge missing and murdered Aboriginal women in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Since then it has grown to include marches and demonstrations at 20 cities across the country.