Sisters not Statistics

March Commemorates Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

Native women are five times more likely to die a violent death than non-native women. Photo Riley Sparks

Over a dozen placards with pictures of smiling, missing aboriginal women adorned the statue in Cabot Square on Oct. 4, looking into a 200-strong crowd that gathered for the fifth annual Sisters in Spirit march to honor the 582 recorded missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Started in 2005, the walk is a nationwide show of solidarity that has grown from 11 to 81 cities across the country. Participants demand that the government respond to the scale and severity of the human rights violations indigenous women face in Canada, something Amnesty International has called “epidemic.”

After a traditional prayer and the beat of Tiohtia:ke drummers, the crowd headed east down Ste. Catherine Street West to Phillips Square for a candlelight vigil, listening to activists and family members of the missing women share their stories and discuss the social and institutional indifference.
Bridget Tolley, whose mother Gladys was struck and killed by a Sureté du Québec police cruiser in 2006 and who was recently denied a request for an independent inquiry into her death, spoke to the crowd about her tireless struggle for answers over the last nine years and of the internal police resistance to helping her find closure.

“It’s been a very long and difficult journey,” she said, adding that investigators made no effort to communicate with her family, who had to learn from a newspaper reporter that the investigation into her mother’s death was closed.

“After almost two years and $2,000, I was finally able to gain access to official police reports. What I learned was disturbing and outrageous: proper investigation protocols were not followed, written statements were full of inconsistencies and jurisdictional police agreements were ignored,” she said.

“One of the most shocking things that I’ve learned was that the investigating officer who came to the scene was the brother of the officer who was driving the cruiser that killed my mom,” Tolley added, choking back tears.

“But I am not satisfied with this outcome. I will keep walking.”

Since July 2009, an estimated 62 women have been reported missing or murdered, though the absence of accurate national statistics lead some to believe that the total of missing women could be as high as 4,000.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has also found through independent research that no charges have been laid in 40 per cent of cases involving aboriginal women as victims.

According to a special report by Amnesty International, entitled No More Stolen Sisters, aboriginal women are five times more likely to die violently than non-aboriginal women. The continued failure of these crimes to provoke outrage in the general population illustrates a problem indicative of a larger historical and uniquely Canadian social context, according to the report.

“We’ve been documenting the different levels of violence rigorously,” said Beatrice Vaugrante, directrice generale of Amnesty International’s Francophone branch, “and it’s not only a problem of missing and disappeared women, unfortunately. It’s poverty, discrimination, misogyny and racism in our system and our society.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 08, published October 5, 2010.