Photo: S. Amy Desjarlais
February 14th represents a day when many in mainstream culture celebrate love, romance, and relationships. For many Aboriginal families, it is a day to remember and demand justice for missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Families, supporters and allies stood outside the Toronto Police Headquarters in bone-chilling weather in ceremony, calling on Canada to act.
“Where is your heart?” Blares one handwritten message starkly contrasted by the colours of the Canadian flag. Indeed, it seems one needs to ask that question, after the repeated calls for a national public Inquiry into the 1200+ Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canada continue to fall on deaf ears. Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s actions demonstrate that he does not believe that Aboriginal women deserve fair treatment, or respect. Do Aboriginal women represent a disposable part of Canadian society that warrant no empathy or justice from the Harper Government? Clearly families, supporters, and allies across the country know differently.
Ceremony performed with our “heart-berry” Odemin/Strawberry, allows us to speak to loved ones in the spirit world. Many voices lifting together in prayer, in ceremony, and in song to let our missing and murdered sisters know that we are here working to make their lives mean something. Ceremony brings value and honour back to the lives of Aboriginal women everywhere.
According to health professionals, minimizing, denying or blaming victims is an act of violence. One leader who is responding is Assembly of First Nations leader, Perry Bellegarde who recently mentioned five things an inquiry would accomplish: better social services in First Nations communities; better coordination with the justice system; ensuring that families are heard; exposing the roots of colonial violence against Indigenous women; and creating wider social awareness at the international level.
Loss of a loved one is painful for everyone. Grieving families warrant leadership capable of responding in a responsible way. Loss of life through senseless acts of preventable violence deserves action by everyone. Canada is country that purports to protect its citizens against violence. Families of the victims of violence need leadership that responds by ardently ensuring change. The message that Canada and Canadians are sending to these families when cases remain unsolved, and the violence persists, is that the lives of Aboriginal people are not valued in this country. As Indigenous Peoples, we deserve better.
An alarming report published by the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) endorsed by member agency Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto (ALST), finds hundreds of expert recommendations to stop violence against Indigenous women and girls have yet to be implemented. Read the LEAF press release and find links to the report here: