It is Valentine’s Day, but for many across Turtle Island, it is a day not of romance but to commemorate loss and celebrate lives that are no more.
For the family of Loretta Saunders it marks the year anniversary of when she disappeared after going to collect rent from her subletters; her body was found two weeks later, and the subletters have been charged in her murder.
For the family of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old whose body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg late last year, it is another sad reminder of a beloved life cut short.
A close call for Rinelle Harper, 16, who nearly suffered the same fate but pulled herself out of the river and was rescued. Healing at home after a hospital stay, she has added her voice to those advocating for a national inquiry into why such horrific violence is so often visited upon indigenous women.
And the family of Stephanie Lane is still fighting for convicted serial killer Robert Pickton to be charged in her murder after learning that the 20-year-old woman’s partial skeletal remains had been misplaced in storage by British Columbia from 2003 through 2010. The police had initially told the family that the amount of DNA they’d found was not enough to charge Pickton with. Now they say that with Pickton behind bars for the maximum sentence from his conviction on several other murder charges, no further investigation will be conducted, according to CBC News.
To draw attention to these and lower-profile cases, and to press for a national inquiry into why aboriginal women are so much more prone to violence than their mainstream counterparts, the marches and vigils go on, this year with the theme, “Their Spirits Live Within Us.”
Vigils are planned all across Canada, the most prominent being the 25th annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, which begins at noon. Following tradition, starting at noon, the marchers will wend their way through the Downtown Eastside, conducting ceremonies at places where missing or murdered women have been found, or were last seen.
“The march is held to honor and grieve the loss of the lives of women who die each year due to violence and to remember the more than 32 women who are still listed as missing,” the organizers said in a statement of the march, which is focused on the women of the Downtown Eastside.
Across Canada the number surpasses 1,200, according to figures released last year by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
This year at least three marches are taking place in the United States: noon in Denver, the Sing Our Rivers Red March; Fargo, North Dakota, noon at Fargo Public Library “In solidarity with the ongoing efforts in Canada, & to raise awareness / gain recognition about the very same problem in the U.S.,” with a Facebook page for more information. In Minneapolis the First Annual Women’s Memorial March: Sing Our Rivers Red Twin Cities begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.