Updated: Feb 20, 2019
“We are resilient people” - Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers
Article by: Rob Sandvik
A photo from Sault Ste. Marie's March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women that took place across Canada on February 14th, 2019
As an ally to Canada’s First Nations peoples and Indigenous communities throughout the world, attending the 12th annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women was an was an incredibly eye-opening experience.
The ceremony at Sault Ste. Marie’s Courthouse started with a drumming circle that was led by students across multiple schools in the city. The hosts of this event treated attendees to several other performances throughout the day, such as the Healing Lodge Singers and Bear Creek Singers. Praying and smudging also took place during the event, including a sacred fire. It was humbling to attend this ceremony which demonstrated the value of Indigenous cultures and created a sense of solidarity amongst the Sault community.
The master of ceremonies for the Memorial March was a student of Algoma University, Quinn Meawasige. As he led the crowd through speeches and songs, posters resembling red dresses were held high by those who attended the event. Red dresses were also presented in front of the courthouse. These visuals served, and continue to serve, as powerful reminders of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Sault Ste. Marie’s Mayor Christian Provenzano acknowledged this day of action, and spoke in solidarity with Canada’s Indigenous community by declaring February 14th as a Memorial Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. “Truth comes from reconciliation,” said Mayor Christian Provenzano. As an ally, I believe it was important for Mayor Provenzano to mention this as it can help the Sault's community further understand and join the collective journey towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples of Canada and the world.
After the crowd partook in a moment of silence, more speeches were made. Speakers stated that approximately 70% of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls go missing from urban areas, such as in our own city, Sault Ste. Marie. One speaker also addressed that there is a lack of trauma services for Indigenous peoples in our own community, especially those who are queer, gender non-conforming and two-spirit. It was addressed that services are only declining with Ontario’s new government.
The Sault Ste. Marie community and Canada have a lot of work to do in terms of ending systemic discrimination. While advocates and allies of Indigenous communities continue to work towards eliminating all forms of violence (As the mission statement of The Indigenous Women’s Anti-Violence Task Force seeks to do), the event radiated solidarity and optimism towards fostering a better future.
Batchewana First Nation’s Chief Dean Sayers made a memorable speech. “Sault Ste. Marie will not be idle,” said Chief Dean Sayers, likely making reference to the “Idle No More” movement, a nation-wide movement for Indigenous sovereignty, treaty recognition/respect and stopping environmental degradation and social inequality.
Thankfully, work is being done. This is especially apparent by the Indigenous Women Anti-Violence Task Force (IWAVTF) who planned a part of the nation-wide march in Sault Ste. Marie. Last year after this event took place in Sault Ste. Marie, the task force formed in order to create sustainable and ongoing efforts towards ending violence against Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender non-conforming peoples.
During the event, the large group was led to the Delta Hotel. Here, attendees gathered for food and a sharing circle.
As stated previously, being an ally to the Indigenous community comes with a great amount of privilege and responsibility. In Canada, Indigenous peoples carry not only a history that is drastically different than settlers in the country, but the community has a strength that is remarkable, it is unmatched.
It should be clear that the deeply unfair treatment against Indigenous peoples is still ongoing. For proof of this, one must look no further than the alarmingly disproportionate number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women all throughout our country.
Ontario is planning to cut programs. One of these programs is Children Who Witness Violence, a program that specifically supports Indigenous communities in Canada. Clearly, our country and our community have performed a disservice by not praising the Indigenous community enough for their work.
The Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was a tremendous display of resilience and representation of Indigenous peoples everywhere. As an ally, I feel we have a lot to learn from Indigenous communities, and a responsibility as allies to eliminate systemic violence.
The event that took place in front of Sault Ste. Marie’s courthouse on February 14th contributed to a giant, ongoing breath of solidarity that was felt by attendees of similar events across Canada. Recognizing and remembering Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls must be an ongoing effort by all Canadians. It is vital to the future of our society.