Wolastoqiyik women from St. Mary’s First Nation, along with allies, held a vigil on October 4th for murdered and missing Native women, girls, and two-spirited people. Sisters in Spirit vigils and marches are organized each year, nationally by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
In Canada, more than 1000 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in the last three decades.
About 100 people attended the vigil in Fredericton, which began with a processional walk from the St. Mary’s Cultural centre on Dedham Street to the old reserve on the left bank of the Wolastoq River (Saint John River). There was a ceremonial fire, singing, drumming, prayers, and sacrifices of tobacco. Speakers included Passamaquoddy elder Maggie Paul; St. Mary’s Chief Candice Paul; Carolina Zamarripa from the Love Shouldn’t Hurt campaign; Andy and Ashley from the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre; John Shark, CEO of Partners for Youth; and Peggy Brooks for Wolastoqiyik Sisters in Spirit.
Candice Paul said there is great need of education to change male attitudes toward women. Rebecca Ward of the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre, who spoke to the NB Media Co-op after the event, said that sexual violence runs a gamut from things like cat-calling and whistling at women to physical attacks and rape at the extreme end. She said that many negative behaviours toward women are normalised in our society, and, like Candice Paul, stressed the need of education to change this.
According to the the RCMP, 1,017 Indigenous women were murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012, and there are 164 others missing and not found. Val Polchies and other participants at the vigil in Saint Mary’s said there are probably many more who have not made it into the RCMP records.
The homicide rate for indigenous women is three times the average rate for Canadian women. Sixty percent of Indigenous female homicides occur in urban areas; fewer than 20 percent occur on Indian reserves.
Norm Knight is a reporter with the NB Media Co-op.