The 15th annual Valentine’s Day March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit Peoples was a stark reminder of how much still needs to be done in Canada.
That, from organizers, who said during the Calgary event that promises towards Indigenous families and victims have yet to be fulfilled by all levels of government, and by the nation’s police services.
Michelle Robinson, the host of the Native Calgarian Podcast and Indigenous activist, had strong words for the members of Calgary City Council, who attended the march.
“So when I’m lucky enough to take the mic, it’s more to amplify the voices of the families, and what they want is for our elected politicians—I’m looking right at my councillor who’s looking at his phone—to do more,” Robinson said.
“There’s 231 calls to justice, there’s 94 calls to action, there’s lots for you to do. We’ve given you the solution since 1996, and we have yet to see action be done.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek, alongside councillors Terry Wong, Dan McLean, Andre Chabot, Kourtney Penner, Courtney Walcott, Richard Pootmans, and Evan Spencer attended the march. Top city administration officials, including City Manager David Duckworth, also attended.
Members of the Calgary Police Service’s Indigenous Liaison Unit were also in attendance for the speeches portion of the evening, before taking on traffic control duties for the march along 17 Avenue from the Scarboro United Church.
March coordinator Chantal Chagnon reiterated the need for politicians and the police to follow through on promises made at previous MMIWG2S events, like the Sisters in Spirit Day that was held in October of last year.
“We are always cautiously optimistic when someone makes a promise because we never know if that promise is going to come to fruition, or if it was just a campaign promise in some aspects, or a promise the day of, but that doesn’t get followed up on,” Chagnon said.
“There have been a lot of promises to families through different government bodies through different policing organizations, but then when the families go to pursue that promise the phone calls aren’t returned, and it’s just really disheartening.
“When good people are going to make a promise they have to follow through.”
Among the calls to action during the evening were for the city to fulfill the identified reconciliation steps through the TRC calls to action, the city’s own White Goose Flying Report, and the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.
Increased access to justice, the reopening of cold cases, and reopened research into the true number of MMIWG2S people in the nation were also calls made. Funding to the Sisters in Spirit organization for the creation of a national database of MMIWG2S individuals was dropped in 2010 by the federal government.
Figures for the number of missing women in the nation range from 1,600 to more than 6,000. Indigenous women are also five times more likely to die from violence, as compared to any other group in Canada.
“We still don’t have an answer for many of our women, many of the women that who are been basically dismissed,” said Chagnon.
“We would have answers if it was not a person of colour, not a racialized woman that had gone missing or been murdered. If it was a white woman, those answers would have been there for their families.”
Council learning to do better
Changnon thanked the city councillors for attending the event, which was a marked difference from last year when there was no city council presence. She called it a ripple effect, where even small changes would eventually lead to bigger and better outcomes.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that as elected officials, they had a responsibility this year to attend the march.
“We have jobs to do as elected officials to represent everyone that we serve, and raising the voice of the Indigenous community, raising the voice of families that are mourning murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and two spirit peoples,” she said.
“You don’t just show up and get noticed. And you don’t just check a box saying you were there. You actually do what you’re supposed to do, and stand shoulder to shoulder with people who are grieving.”
On why neither council nor city administrators attended the march in 2022, she said that they were learning how to be better partners with community groups.
“There are times when we prioritize council meetings over all else,” Mayor Gondek said.
“Today, we sent a message very early in the day and said ‘this March is taking place this evening, we will be there, and we’d come back after we’re done marching with Indigenous peoples and finish our meeting, but we will be there.'”
Moose Hide Campaign pledge was taken by most of city council
Prior to the start of the march, attendees were welcomed to take the Moose Hide Campaign pledge. The campaign aims to build awareness of violence perpetrated against women and children and calls on people who take the pledge to wear the Moose Hide pin, to do everything they can to protect women and children from violence.
Ward 7 Councillor Terry Wong, who took the pledge and received his Moose Hide pin, said that he did so because Indigenous people were looking to municipal leaders to make a difference.
“They’re looking at government leaders like ourselves to make that difference, make the difference in the policy side, but more importantly, make the difference on the frontline and the service side. That’s what it means to me,” Wong said.
He said that of the councillors who did not take the pledge, it was important for politicians taking it to actually embody it, and not make it a perfunctory act.
“It’s the ones who can walk the streets and not look down at people, but look at people, as the ones who can demonstrate what that really means,” Wong said.
“I’m not against anybody who doesn’t take the pledge. What I’m more concerned about is are they looking at people, are they reaching their hands out.”