Media Invited to Stand with Missing and Murdered Women
Press asked to be part of the change, not perpetuate the problem
"I grew up as a little girl not trusting those who were supposed to be looking after me. I was brought up to be ashamed of who I was. It took me years to feel good in this body, to accept that these brown hands are mine. Finally, I can say I am proud to be an Indigenous woman."
Carol Martin, a victim services worker at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, was one of four Indigenous women "honouring" the media this morning at the Carnegie Theatre on East Hastings Street in Vancouver.
Martin, along with Mona Woodward of the Rain City Housing Coalition, Fay Blaney, founder of the Aboriginal Women's Action Network and Dalannah Bowen, Director of Interurban Gallery, invited media to a press conference in lieu of including the press in the February 14 march to honour 3,000 murdered and missing women in Canada.
Journalists are not permitted to attend the ceremony in the Carnegie Theatre at noon on Valentine's Day, and are asked not to film or snap pictures during the march, when friends and families of murdered and missing women will stop to perform healing ceremonies at sites where women have died.
"Nineteen years ago, a Coast Salish woman's body was found in parts in Victoria. She had been mutilated. The memorial for her death lasted 10 minutes," said Blaney. "The community [of Indigenous women] here recognized there's a lot of that."
Eighteen years ago, the first women's memorial march was organized.
"We want to uphold the memorial part of it, to extend respect to the families," she said. Even the organizers of the march, many of whom are political activists, do not bring their politics to the march.
Owen, on behalf of the women giving the press conference and women everywhere, called on the media to "be part of the change, not perpetuate the problem."
The problem - that the list of murdered and missing women, most of them Indigenous, has reached 3,000 since the 1970s; that the list is growing; and that there has not yet been a public inquiry into any of the cases - is exacerbated, according to Owen, by a media that misrepresents the stories of women beaten, violated, kidnapped and murdered across Canada.
Indigenous women in Canada deal with more health problems and homelessness than any other demographic group. "Our children are being taken away from us; our women are being killed," said Martin. "We are homeless in the very country that gets rich on our land."
With billions being spent on the Olympics this year in Vancouver, Owens said, Canadians need to "examine the other side of the coin." Why, when so many public resources are being spent on the 2010 Games, has there not even been a public inquiry into the systematic violence suffered by the most vulnerable Canadians?
If we live in a democracy, said Owens, where is equality? Where is justice?
"Media is a powerful vehicle. We challenge you to give this profile its proper due. Stand with us," she said.
March organizers were asked whether the Olympics in Vancouver would draw attention to - or by the same token, detract from - attention to the march because people would be focused on Vancouver and the Games.
"Our march happens to fall on the same day as the beginning of the Olympic Games. We're not going to strain our brains over it," said Martin.
"We would suggest we will have more people than ever," said Owen. "Not only is the world watching, but women of the world know this issue."
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympics (VANOC) had suggested the march change its route, which has remained constant for 19 years. In response, 4,000 signatures in support of the march keeping to its original route were collected in less than three days.
Valentine's Day solidarity marches are expected in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Sudbury, London, Montreal and Victoria.
"This is about living with dignity and respect in our daily lives," said Owen. "As long as we keep working, the story will be told."
The 19th annual Women's Memorial March will begin at 1pm on February 14 at Carnegie Theatre. March organizers will host a media scrum at 11:15 am on the Carnegie patio, and the march will end at Oppenheimer Park. Photograph by Murray Bush.
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