‘How Many Missing Before you Start Listening?’

Remembrance for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Photos Rodrigo Lozada

Updated on Oct 10

The sixth annual March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women took over Cabot Square Oct. 4, raising awareness and demanding government money for their cause.

The march began with a drum circle and a prayer before Bridget Tolley, who founded the annual event after her mother was struck and killed by a Sûreté du Québec police car in 2001, spoke to the crowd.

“Last year the government took away the funding for the Sisters in Spirit from the Native Women’s Association of Canada,” said Tolley, referring to the Harper administration pulling funding to the NWAC’s research and education initiative last year.

“But we just couldn’t let it go. [These are] our sisters in spirit and we want to continue to honour them.”

“We are here, we are going to be here and we are not going anywhere,” Tolley continued. “We are going to continue to fight as families, as sisters in spirit with no funding. We are going to continue to go on.”

According to the NWAC, 583 Native women have disappeared or been murdered since 1980.

Last year, the Minister of State for Status of Women Canada, Rona Ambrose, detailed the federal government’s $10 million national strategy to address the disproportionately high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada—but shut Sisters in Spirit out of it.

After creating the only comprehensive database of its kind and filing nearly 600 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, the SIS initiative pushed the issue into the public discourse and organized vigils across Canada to memorialize the missing and the dead.

The SIS was left out of the federal budget, however; its five-year mandate was not extended by the government. With the budget exclusion, SIS was told to shut down and to discontinue its database by Status of Women Canada.

In its place, the Conservatives announced that $4 million would go towards creating a new branch of the RCMP’s Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. The branch, which will be called the National Police Support Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains, is scheduled to begin operations in 2013.

At the Montreal event, speakers stepped up to the platform after Tolley’s speech to tell their stories of murdered daughters, mothers, family and friends.

Many of the stories had no ending—a loved one was seen one morning, then never again. Some came with a kind of closure, years later, when the remains of a body were found in the woods or under a bridge and identified. The speakers described the attitudes of the police as ranging from indifferent to malicious.

The march itself started around 7:00 p.m. and flooded down Ste. Catherine St. W., where it seemed to absorb more and more sympathetic people into its folds. By the time it reached Union Ave., the marchers numbered somewhere in the hundreds.

The procession stopped in Philips Square. Candles were handed out and a vigil took place before more guest speakers stood up to share tragic stories and speak to the crowd of injustices suffered. It ended with another drum circle.

Before the final tribute to the missing and the dead, organizers asked the crowd to put away their cameras and recording devices—even the journalists. The drum circle is about sharing a spiritual connection, organizers said, and cameras can’t capture that.

The crowd obliged and gathered together around the drummers to share in the mourning for those who weren’t there and joy for those who were.

—with files from Laura Beeston