‘By changing yourself, you can change the future’
By Joel MacKenzie, Staff Writer
On October 4, the Douglas Students’ Union (DSU) organized a candlelight vigil at both the New Westminster and the David Lam campuses in support of the Sisters in Spirit movement.
The vigil was intended to “bring focus and awareness to the over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada,” said Jenelle Davies, Women’s Liaison of the Douglas Students’ Union, during an interview with The Other Press. “We want to bring awareness to it, and humanize victims…it’s not just a number of people that are missing. It’s actual mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and aunties.”
About holding the vigil at Douglas College, Davies said, “Our students are very progressive and they really care about what goes on around them and in the community…it shows the community that we are ready to stand up for issues that are important to us.”
The New Westminster vigil included speakers such as Davies herself, Katie Marocchi from the Canadian Federation of Students of BC, the DSU’s Aboriginal Liaison Madison Paradis-Woodman, Mona Woodward, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Front Door Society, and Lorelei Williams, a women’s youth outreach worker at the Aboriginal Front Door Society and the Project Director of the Butterflies in Spirit Project, which performs in support of the missing or murdered women.
Woodward and Williams recited personal accounts of their families being affected by this issue. Woodward’s cousin Ashley Machiskinic died from falling from a window in Vancouver’s downtown east side at 21-years-old in 2010. She “was thrown out the window like a piece of garbage…over a $50 drug debt,” she said. Williams named four members of her family that are missing or have been assaulted, raped, or murdered.
Speakers referenced feelings of helplessness and worthlessness that Aboriginal women face in Canadian society. “We were taught at a very early age that society does not value an Aboriginal woman,” Woodward said. She referenced the police’s lack of interest concerning the cause of the womens’ deaths, and their negative media portrayal. Machiskinic, for instance, whose death “everybody knew…was murder,” was only declared as suicide until a group, including Woodward, protested at the Vancouver Police Department.
Woodward said that the positive impact that these events have had on her is to “advocate for women who don’t have a voice.” She added, “By changing yourself, you can change the future, just by taking that moment to take note, to take action.”
The vigil also included a petition from the Native Women’s Association of Canada addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking for a national inquiry into the over 582 occurrences of missing or murdered Aboriginal females in Canada. It calls for the identification of the factors causing this issue, and the “remedy” of the “individuals, processes and policies responsible for maintaining the status quo.”
More information can be found at www.nwac.ca, www.october4th.ca, and the petition can be signed online at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/sisters-in-spirit-initiative.html.