Photos: Indigenous women's march honours the missing, decries Canada's 'injustice system'
Women have placed tobacco and roses in the Downtown Eastside since 1992 to remember hundreds of missing and murdered women. But this year's march comes amidst heightened tensions over justice and policing.
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Vancouver's Women's Memorial March, in its 27th year, is billed as a solemn prayer vigil and procession in memory of the missing, not a protest.
"I feel happy that I've come, seeing all these faces is inspiring," said Michele Pineault, whose daughter Stephanie Marie Lane, 20, vanished in the Downtown Eastside in 1997 and whose DNA was found on serial killer Robert Pickton's farm. "Stephanie's been gone now 21 years, so she's been gone longer than she was alive."
But as elders from a number of B.C. First Nations offered prayers, placing loose tobacco and red and yellow roses on the ground across the Downtown Eastside — naming some of the more than 1,200 Indigenous women the RCMP says have disappeared in Canada — many participants told Metro that the country's justice system is also top of mind this year.
"Our people are not recognized equally in Canada," said Juanita Desjarlais, a long-time member of the march's organizing committee, in an interview. "Canada's laws were set up to vilify our people and way of life … The laws are racist and discriminatory and we still have a ways to go."
The annual march comes just five days after a seemingly all-white Saskatchewan jury acquitted a white farmer who shot and killed a young Cree man, Colten Boushie, in 2016. But since 1992 the memorial marches have drawn attention to systemic injustices long before that, Desjarlais said.
"As far as I see it, we now have a good talk," she argued, "but it boils down to people still needing to change their views. Why is it that white privilege supercedes an Indigenous person's life?"
Friday's trial verdict shocked many in Canada. But the not-guilty ruling, even on manslaughter charges, came as little surprise to several marchers who told Metro the event has drawn attention to racism in the country's judicial system since its inception.
"We need marches and memorials like this to continue the momentum to see changes in our society in regards to how Indigenous women are viewed," said Takla Lake First Nation's Terry Teegee, B.C. regional chief of the Assembly of First Nation who also co-chairs the group's national justice committee. "We've been calling for changes and an overhaul of the judicial system, because it certainly doesn't represent our people and it can't provide justice to our Indigenous people.
"We've seen the miscarriage of justice with Colten Boushie, but there have been so many miscarriages of justice … the 'injustice system' is one of the things it been called."
Since Friday's verdict, Indigenous leaders in B.C. have added their cries to a chorus of outrage across the country, including a protest that drew hundreds Saturday in Vancouver.