Dozens of people marched through downtown Maple Ridge to bring attention to murdered and missing Indigenous women in British Columbia and across the country.
About 30 marchers left the Memorial Peace Park gazebo just after noon on Tuesday, Feb. 14, for the ninth annual Memorial March of Maple Ridge and organizer Yvonne Desabrais said that as the march made its way through the downtown core, people would join the walk in solidarity or honk as they drove by.
“This is what I love about it is that people feel comfortable enough that they know they are more than welcome to come, if they are walking for a minute or if they are walking for the whole time,” said Desabrais.
Desabrais elaborated that the march was about honouring those who are still missing and bringing them home to their families. A sage stick was burned in order to smoke the path for the spirits to find and come home, she said, adding she was grateful for the support of all those who attended.
“I don’t even know some of them. But that connection is what is bringing us together,” she said.
The point of the march, she said, is to send energy out to bring the women home.
“Send that energy out there that we find the remains of those who have been murdered and bring them home. They need to come home,” added Desabrais.
“We need our sisters home,” said Desabrais. “Enough with the stolen sisters.”
Marchers made their way from Memorial Peace Park down 224 Street to Lougheed Highway where they headed east to 226 Street, north to Edge Street, west on Dewdney Trunk Road to 224 Street, and then back to the downtown park.
Participants were encouraged to bring a drum or a picture of a loved one whom they were marching for.
2020 was the last official march for the event that went online after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
Elder, Coleen Pierre, emcee of the event, said there was an open mic to give participants the opportunity to share their feelings and emotions.
“The messages that the participants relayed to close the circle was so heartwarming to hear,” she said, adding that through time, effort, and sacrifice, they are making more people aware of the history of the first peoples of Canada.
“I will continue on to bring awareness, with the intent to make life easier to live in for our future generations coming up,” she said.
The march coincides with the Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver which has been taking place since 1992.
“For more than 30 years, people have marched together in the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to honour and remember Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQ+ people who have been murdered or are still missing,” said B.C. Premier David Eby, along with Kelli Paddon, parliamentary secretary for gender equity, and Murray Rankin, the minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, in a statement on Tuesday.
“All of us have a responsibility to come together on this day, and every day, to protect those who are most at risk of being targeted with violence. This is an urgent issue confronting First Nations, our province and country,” they said, noting that they are committed to, “ensuring the safety and well-being of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQ+ people and addressing the underlying root causes of violence.”
Desabrais said the support they receive from the community is what makes the march so powerful.
She said that before the march even began, a woman walking in the park with little children approached Desabrais and gave her a flower from a bouquet she was holding. Elder Pierre then blanketed her for warmth and protection in honour of her as the organizer.
“That’s how I started the march,” said Desabrais. “It’s so powerful to experience that level of support on such a strong, spiritual level.”
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