Bringing students together to remember missing and murdered Aboriginal women
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
The Douglas Students’ Union (DSU) will host events at both the New Westminster and David Lam campuses next week in remembrance of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.
Sisters in Spirit (SIS) is a research and policy initiative spearheaded by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) to raise awareness of the disproportionately high rates of violence against Aboriginal women in Canada. In 2010, the project found 582 Aboriginal women had been confirmed either murdered or missing, the majority of those cases from over the last 20 years alone. Estimates of unreported or yet to be discovered cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada are much higher. The Sisters in Spirit vigils—which began in 2006 with 11 vigils nationwide—have grown in number, reporting 175 vigils across Canada last year.
The Sisters in Spirit vigils take place on or around October 4, a national day of remembrance honouring the lives of those missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
Madison Paradis-Woodman, the DSU’s college relations coordinator, said that next week’s events at Douglas College are important, particularly in the battle against institutional racism.
“Douglas College fosters engaging learning and notions of equality and inclusivity,” said Paradis-Woodman. “Student involvement on this issue is vital given that students have historically taken the lead on a variety of issues around the globe.”
NWAC seems to agree, given that the Canadian Federation of Students Aboriginal Caucus is a SIS vigil committee member.
The DSU is just one of several groups across Canada that will host vigils next week, with cities and towns across British Columbia holding similar events.
The issue hits home in British Columbia, as several of those missing and murdered Aboriginal women are counted among the victims of Port Coquitlam serial killer Robert Pickton, who admitted in 2007 to the murder of 49 women.
“That’s one of the reasons that having this event at Douglas College is so important. It’s incredibly local and topical given that many of these women were residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.”
The vigil will also include the reading of a statement endorsed by Canadian Aboriginal groups, the Canadian Federation of Students, and Amnesty International Canada, which will call on all levels of government to cooperate with the work NWAC has been pursuing for the last four decades.
The federal government has resisted calls from outside organizations, including the United Nations, to further investigate violence against Aboriginal women. This past week, Prime Minister Harper’s government rejected the idea of commissioning a national inquiry into the issue, stating that it did not want to share its data with countries, such as Iran, Russia, and Cuba, with shoddy human rights records. Iran, Belarus, Cuba, and Russia have criticized the Harper government for failing to act on this.
“Violence against Aboriginal women is a national tragedy,” said Paradis-Woodman. “The federal government’s refusal to call a national inquiry is particularly insulting given that it comes on Aboriginal Reconciliation Week in Canada.”
The Faceless Dolls Project, which will make its debut at Douglas College this year in conjunction with the SIS vigil, is NWAC’s “hands-on” initiative. The goal is to create a travelling art exhibit that provides the general public with a visual representation of over six hundred Aboriginal women who’ve been victims of violence. The idea is to create a tangible, emotional connection to the Aboriginal statistics that are so often disregarded.
“It’s really to humanize the issue,” said Paradis-Woodman, adding that the theme of the Faceless Dolls Project is that “each statistic tells a story.”
The DSU’s Sisters in Spirit needs your involvement in their movement for social change. Vigils will take place on October 1 at 11:30 a.m. at the New Westminster campus, and on October 3 at noon at the David Lam campus.