Dozens of community members from Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation held vigils remembering women lost to violence on Monday.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) are remembered annually on Valentine’s Day with marches, speeches, wearing red and honouring the lives of women and girls taken too soon by violence.
MCFN members lit a sacred fire, danced and honoured the women with a convoy through the community and nearby Hagersville while Six Nations members held a memorial walk through the village and gathered at Veteran’s Park in Ohsweken where Ganohkwasra executive director Sandy Montour spoke of new beginnings.
“That’s our hope here today,” said Montour, director of Ganohkwasra Family Assault Support Services. “A new beginning. We want to live in a violence-free community. I’m looking around and seeing these amazing people here and I’ve come to love every one of them.”
Despite the chill, there was warmth among all the participants as Montour honoured the families of MMIWG and all the pain they’ve been living with all these years.
“I just want to acknowledge them all and them how much they’re loved, by not only Ganohkwasra, but our whole community,” she said.
Chasity Martin, Love Starts With Us coordinator and counselor, whose aunt, Paula Joy Martin, was murdered in 1996 by her husband.
“It’s kind of like coming full circle for myself and my healing journey,” she said of accessing the programs at Ganohkwasra.
She said it was important people understood what is continuing to happen in the community with violence.
“I challenge every one of you – we need to do better. Go home. Try to tell someone every day that you love them.”
Dr. Bev Jacobs, former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and long-time advocate of MMIWG, spoke of her reasons for continuing to advocate for Indigenous people, who are lost to violence at much higher rates than any other demographic in Canada.
“It has been a long journey for me, as well, starting the work first with Amnesty International,” she said. “The whole purpose of today and Valentine’s Day is to show love and kindness and compassion and it’s an honour to be part of this journey with our families here. It is a huge message to our community to end the violence.”
Jacobs was part of the inaugural push to get recognition and justice for the families of MMIWG, which included a national inquiry into the issue and a push for change at how police handle such cases.
The federal government released a 30-page action plan in 2021 to address violence against MMIWG but the Native Women’s Association of Canada criticized the plan, saying it’s only half a document because it doesn’t include an implementation plan.