Annual DTES Valentine’s March gains traction
By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor
A somber and resilient love pulsed throughout Main Street and East Hastings on February 14. It was a love for mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and friends who have been lost, but not forgotten.
Every Valentine’s Day, for the past 27 years, people have been marching in solidarity for Indigenous women who have lost their lives to emotional, physical, or sexual violence.
“We purposely pick Valentine’s Day because it’s a symbol of love. Oftentimes, the women are viewed as prostitutes or addicts, and it takes away from their humanness,” Mabel Nipshank, who has partaken in the march for much of its tenure, told The Georgia Straight.
Thousands of people appeared at this year’s march, despite the threat of bad weather looming. Many brought Indigenous traditions with them, such as burning sage and wearing traditional attire.
A disproportionate amount of the women who have lost their lives lost them in the Downtown Eastside. Those who marched maneuvered their way through the DTES, paying respects to areas where many of these women were last seen, either living or deceased.
Myrna Cranmer is another woman who has been marching for these women. This year marked the 20th year of her participation.
“Before, my heart used to be very sad. Now, it’s getting very angry. There’s nothing. You know, there’s nothing I can do to make sure these women are safe and alive,” Cranmer said to CBC. “I don’t know where they’re coming from, but they keep coming, and this is where they come […] and this is where they die.”
Living in the DTES is difficult for anyone, but especially for Indigenous women. Cranmer explained to The Georgia Straight that single-room occupancies (SRO’s) and shelters set aside for the disadvantaged are not adequate nor safe enough to provide a lasting solution. They also cannot match the number of women who need them, and many of these women have no choice but the brave the streets.
Aside from basic shelter, Carole Martin, another long time participant, explained to The Georgia Straight that a lack of social programs to help these women leaves them vulnerable to tragedy.
Besides the threat of violence, the fentanyl crisis is quickly becoming another deadly threat to these women.
The march has also served as a long-standing message to the government that more needs to be done in order to reduce the staggering numbers of Indigenous women who have been murdered or have gone missing.
The federal government launched a national inquiry into the deaths of these women in August 2016, with commissioners going out into communities across the country to make sense of these cases. However, Nipshank and Cranmer both noted that those conducting the inquiry are not doing enough to reach out to the organizations that work with these women the most.