The Downtown East Side Women’s Memorial March is an annual event that coincides with Valentine’s Day, but celebrates a pressing social issue in Canadian society.
February 14, in this light, is a day to remember and a call to action for the 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Ahead of this day, which is celebrated throughout the nation, SFU students Maddi and Matt, in collaboration with the Indigenous Student Centre (ISC), Simon Fraser Public Interest Group (SFPIRG), and First Nations Student Association, (FNSA) organized and hosted the first ever Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Awareness Week at SFU. Events ran from February 6 through February 10.
The MMIW Awareness Week highlighted the systematic discrimination and inequality that victimizes Aboriginal women, subjecting them to injustice and violence.
Maddi, speaking to the motive behind organizing this week, said, “This event was created so we could give the ones who have been taken from us a voice. We wanted to show [that] even though they are not here, they are not forgotten. We wanted to create a bridge to awareness among the SFU community.”
No single event could mobilize or bring awareness on such a pressing concern, and therefore, a week-long celebration with varying events was organized in order to allow SFU students to take part.
Students were able to participate by lighting a candle near the vigil placed in Convocation Mall. “People could stop there at any time during the week, read the banner, zines, and broadcloth explanation, while lighting a candle in remembrance, to honor the girls, women, and the two-spirited peoples of the Indigenous community,” detailed Maddi.
“This is not an easy topic to talk about, and I think that is, maybe, why it’s ignored.”– Maddi
“We also hosted a discussion forum on February 9, where people were invited to sit and talk with us about the issuesthat brought us to 4,000 MMIW — from historical impacts to modern media stigmatizations,” she explained.
Indigenous women are subjected to intersectional oppression and discrimination and continue to be neglected. Despite the declining crime rate in Canada, Indigenous peoples, especially women, are persecuted to alarming proportions of crime and violence.
On the last day of the awareness week, February 10, the documentary Finding Dawn, which investigated the many Indigenous women, missing and murdered in BC, was screened, followed by a march around the Burnaby campus. “We ended the march with a prayer and moment of silence in front of the vigil, and hung the tied broadcloth offerings across the trees, while honoring the Indigenous traditions and protocols.” said Matt.
There was a mixed response to the MMIW Awareness Week throughout SFU, however. “We had trouble throughout the week, as there were various issues that had showed the ignorance on campus still exists. [. . .] For one incident, the broadcloth offerings that were placed around the campus were ripped; this is incredibly disrespectful in our culture,” said Maddi.
On the other hand, the people that attended the events showed engagement and support as they expressed their dearth of awareness and relevancy of the MMIW, even today. “Some of them continuously expressed their concerns about how it happens in their backyard in Vancouver” Maddi added.
The march, at the end of the week, was the most effective and impactful. The SFU community could have actively participated or chosen not to in the other events, but the march could not have been ignored. Maddi stressed, “The march was very evident as we marched with our drums in front of everyone. It was a very powerful act that we decided to do.”
“It only takes a small amount of people to do something that is meaningful, and with proceeding to do the march, I think we affected a lot individuals. We are present and [. . .] this is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer than it already has been,” stated Matt.
One of the first Indigenous awareness weeks at SFU, the MMIW Awareness Week charged a successful campaign to emphasize this struggle. “SFU should show more initiative towards Indigenous issues. It would benefit the university due to its large Indigenous population, and as Indigenous students, we would feel the university’s support as well,” stated Maddi.
The MMIW Awareness Week was a success due to the collaboration among volunteers and groups such as the FNSA, ISC, and SFPIRG. “This is not an easy topic to talk about, and I think that is, maybe, why it’s ignored,” said Maddi.
Speaking to the SFU community, Matt further elaborated saying, “It is about breaking down barriers, stereotypes, and stigmatizations that Indigenous people face. It shouldn’t take an Indigenous person you know personally to go missing for you to take action.”
*Full names were not published at the request of the interviewees.