By Julia Magsombol
Local Journalism Initiative
October 4 is Sisters in Spirit Day — a day to honour the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls through prayers and vigils.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) was established in 1974 — a non-profit organization run by many Indigenous women.
They aim to focus on sex discrimination in the Indian Act that other non-profit Indigenous organizations were not addressing. They also represent the political voice of Indigenous women, girls, transgender, two-spirit, and gender-diverse people.
They built a program called ‘Sisters in Spirit Day,’ which takes place across Canada. But this year, NWAC decided to lead the program through a procession in Gatineau, Quebec on Oct. 3.
“It angers me that we must have these kinds of events to keep the momentum going to bring change. The issue is not taken serious enough by our country, and thus, we keep going missing,” said Debra Fisher, the regional director of Metis Nation BC (MNBC) (Region 4, Kootenay).
The NWAC was founded because of the numerous murders of Indigenous women.
Fisher has two close friends who have had their nieces go missing. She said it had been months and she was scared to ask for updates as it didn’t look promising.
“As a 67-year-old woman, having a sister, being a mother of two grown daughters, Kookum to five females, and aunty to eight females it terrifies me that our society has accepted this as a norm. Men in particular do not realize how we as women constantly have to have our spider senses up, going into parking lots at a mall, parking at any event especially at night, being alone on public transit, going for a walk or bike ride alone just is not safe anymore,” she added.
Based on the 2014 RCMP report, at least 1,200 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or have been killed in Canada. However, the number is suspected to be higher.
Read: http://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/national-operational-overview.pdf. According to research of the University of Toronto, it has been estimated that the true number of murdered and missing women is more than 4,000 between the years of 1956 and 2016. See https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/main-news/overpoliced-and-underprotected-utm-study-finds-search-missing-indigenous-women-hampered
Native Womens Wilderness, a nonprofit organization, reported that Indigenous women and girls are murdered 10 times more than all other ethnicities. Read https://www.nativewomenswilderness.org/mmiw
To add to that, more than 40 women and girls have been murdered since 1969 and were lost on Highway 16, a highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert in northern B.C. Hence, the subsequent name “Highway of Tears” — https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/highway-of-tears
“Every time I hear of another female going missing it hurts my heart. There are people that know information and due to fear, or lack of morals they keep silent and become part of the problem. Until people speak up… nothing will change. Families are traumatized and that legacy is intergenerational when no answers come and no closure,” Fisher said.
Fisher stated that a commitment must exist within the local, provincial, and federal government to support a task force.
“Affordable housing and women’s shelters, more treatment centres, harsher penalties for drug dealers. Parents and schools start teaching their boys that they are protectors of their sisters and cousins and our life givers and need to be respected,” she added.
Fisher wants to say to all the women who have passed away that they are loved and missed. They will never be forgotten, and we will continue to fight to bring change to this issue.
“Society must protect us. Values and belief systems have been broken down and we are seeing the results now,” Fisher noted. “I feel no optimism. I feel until a task force is formed, and women are found and have places to stay in crisis, affordable housing and living wages are respected… things will continue.”