The annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) march took over the streets of Port Hardy on Monday, Feb. 14. It was a collaboration between The Sacred Wolf Friendship Society, Kwakiutl First Nation, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations, and North Island Building Blocks.
The MMIWG march originated in 1991 on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver after a young Indigenous woman’s body was found dismembered at the corner of Powell and Salsbury streets. The march became an annual event held on Feb. 14 to protest the high numbers of women missing and murdered in the Downtown Eastside that have had their files neglected by Canada’s Police and RCMP. The annual march brings courage and commitment to end the violence that vulnerable Indigenous women face on a daily basis all across Canada. It represents a time for remembering, grieving, honouring, and seeking answers for Indigenous communities and their allies.
Port Hardy’s MMIWG march started at The Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre and went through town all the way down to Carrot Park, where Chief Calvin Hunt, Chief TK Henderson, Chief Spruce Wamiss and Chief Billy Robertson gave opening speeches, before passing the mic over and introducing one of the organizers of the event, North Island Building Block’s manager Stephanie Bernard.
“This is something that effects all of us,” Bernard said to the crowd of roughly 200 hundred people in attendance. “Murder is the third leading cause [of death] for Native women.”
She noted Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to die in Canada, and 16 times more likely to die than caucasian women. “These are awful stats, awful stats, and we [need to] come together as a community … to put an end to this.”
Bernard added they are meeting with local RCMP and the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness in hopes of building a partnership that will draw in Indigenous women experiencing homelessness and violence, as well as to have candid conversations around safety and how they can do better by working together to create safety strategies and build awareness.
She also stated that the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw First Nation council met last week and put forward a motion to form a working group with the sole focus of creating a Matriarch Act.
“This document will be a coalition for all the departments with heavy input from matriarch’s, hereditary chiefs, elders, youth and community members,” Bernard said. “From this act, we hope to achieve a document that can inform bylaws, policies and programs, education and prevention. The hope is this document will begin to start formalizing and addressing domestic violence and sexual abuse against our Indigenous women. There will be a cultural component to this document that leads this process. This will guide and work and educate our membership on the important roles that our matriarch’s play in the functioning of our community.”
Other outcomes from the Matriarch Act will be the addressing of women’s physical and mental health through the gathering of information and implementing effective programs.
Bernard then spoke briefly about her two cousins who were murdered, Michelle Shaw and Beth Lagis, and then introduced Roxana Wilson to come and speak to the crowd. Wilson is the mother of 6-year-old Adriane Cecile Wadhams, who was brutally murdered near Fort Rupert back in 1989.
“I’m here to give her a voice,” said Wilson, her voice breaking. “This is so hard, no parent should ever have to go through this.”
Wilson then spoke about how the man responsible for her daughter’s death, Jason Kennedy, was recently up for parole and the painful memories it has caused her family.
She added Kennedy’s parole has thankfully been denied. “No day passes, no halfway house, no minimum security, he’s still in maximum, and his next parole hearing will be five years from now.”
Wilson also talked about the importance of the annual MMIWG march.
“Everything’s been at a standstill since the national inquiry and the release of the final report, and this is why we stand here today and advocate for our missing and murdered love ones, because we want justice, we want our missing loved ones found.”
– with files from Black Press
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