Photo by David P. Ball

Canada’s oldest memorial march for missing and murdered women entered its third decade yesterday. Nearly 2,500 people walked through the streets of downtown Vancouver, drumming, singing, and praying at places where dozens of poor and mostly Indigenous women were killed.

With nearly 600 women on the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s missing or murdered list, it’s both a tragedy and an inspiration that so many people continue to speak out and demand systemic change to prevent more deaths.

This year’s memorial events expanded into two days — coinciding with the ongoing Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, which has become clogged with state lawyers defending police from allegations of wrong-doing, cover-up and conspiracy. I’ve attended the hearings, but little but the government side has been heard.

Still outraged at the expulsion of community groups from the Inquiry — thanks to Premier Christy Clark’s refusal to fund their legal representation — some of those groups took over the Granville and Georgia intersection for five hours yesterday and shared the stories of missing and murdered women.

The Left Coast Post spoke to Carol Martin after the march today. Martin has worked for more than 20 years as a community-based victim services worker at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre — and is on the memorial march organizing committee.

DAVID P. BALL: How do you feel about today?

CAROL MARTIN: It was very different.

DB: No umbrellas this year, I guess.

CM: And it was also very… I didn’t realize how big it was until I came out of the Carnegie (community centre) and saw the crowd. I was like, ‘Wow!’ And as you know, every year we project out a lot of what it’s all about. Meanwhile, the public inquiry taking place right now is projecting out a lot of the injustice, a lot of things the system should have done to prevent a lot of the deaths that took place.

DB: It was almost as big as the Olympic year — I’d say it was about 2,000-3,000 people today. A lot of people are really upset.

CM: Also, when people stand in solidarity with people — when there’s an injustice — that’s truly reflected in something like the march, but also to honour the memory of the deaths of all the women who died or went missing. And the missing voices within the Inquiry were pushed out, but they still went ahead with it. It’s like they’ve prioritized lies based on income, on standards of living. If you live below it, your life is not really all that important.

DB: Could you say something about how prayer and healing are part of the march?

CM: Well, you know, the culture part really reflects who we are as First Nations people, as First Nations women. Honouring our matriarchs, our medicines, our Mother Earth — it just reflects who we are. It identifies who we are. That’s what keeps us going — and it’s what’s kept us going. The system has done everything it can to destroy that, but look at us — we’re still standing here. We’re still welcoming, we’re still helping as many people as we possibly can, even though if you look at the history of our First Nations people, a lot of damages were done. But we’re still here.

DB: There’s still that strength.

CM: Yeah, resilience, the healing, the medicines, the drum, the culture, our elders — that’s part of who we are. Like I said at the police station, our system really needs to start changing — they really need to start looking at lives, versus material stuff. This Canadian system is all based on material stuff: who owns the biggest house, has the biggest job, the biggest TV, how many cars are on their property, stuff like that. That’s what this Canadian system really reflects out to people. That’s not was is important — we have to really become aware of what is more valuable in our lives. So now, because we’ve talked and talked and talked and talked about it, women across Canada are starting to listen, pay attention, and take direction from what we’ve done over the years. They’re starting to stand up too, now. So I just say, “Watch out world!” We’re coming out with our smudge-balls, our drums, our regalias, and we’re still full of love, still caring, still going to help those who fall no matter what colour they are. We’ve learned how to nurture, care and teach people. So now, we’ve pulled ourselves back up, now we’re going to have to teach people respect, love, care, being non-judgemental — remove those labels, everything that reflects who we are in the system.

DB: That seems like a message for everyone, not just First Nations people.

CM: Yes — the system has to remove the labels from us. You can look at the system over the years — whether it’s movies, magazines, news, whatever, they reflect a really bad image of who we are. So there’s this whole stereotyping, stigmatizing, labels. I have a thick label around me that needs to be removed by this system. They’re the ones that put that in place. The end result is that many women die and go missing because no one cares — “Oh, they’re just another part of that group.” It’s like us and them.

DB: It dehumanizes them.

CM: Yes.

DB: How many women do you know who have gone missing or were murdered?

CM: Well, most of the women who are one the missing and murdered poster, a lot of them accessed the old Women’s Centre years ago. I’ve been working down there (…) years before that, at the old Women’s Centre. (…)

DB: You’ve been at the Women’s Centre for over 20 years?

CM: More or less. (laughs) I’ve spoken about a lot things; I’ve seen a lot of where the system has failed. A lot of our money’s put into programs where there are dead-end solutions to our problems. I’ve seen a lot of injustice that should just not happen. And they come in layers — you think you see everything, but when you go down a little notch, you find out more and more how people work with people down here. Every time you go down a notch, you’re uncovering more about the injustice, and it gets worse as you go down.

DB: I could almost say that this march is the heart, or the conscience, of Vancouver, in a way, as a city. It’s so many people coming out, year after year, and saying what’s important. It’s inspiring for me, and it was amazing during 2010 to see 5,000-6,000 people there. This is like the conscience of the city. It’s not all about condos.

CM: Yeah. That’s a good way of looking at it. I will be your conscience. I will watch what you put in the newspaper. And I think we as individuals have to be accountable to make those changes. We need to reflect the changes that need to be projected out there. I’m a workaholic, I’ve always been a workaholic. I’m no “drunken Indian” who’s easy to get laid or be taken advantage of. I’m just like the person next to you. The system has really changed our attitude about who we are. If you were to go out there and find out, from the public and society, what are the things people think are positive about who we are — they think we’ve got it made easy, they think the system’s taking care of us, we don’t worry about our education or pay taxes. We really need to re-educate the system.

DB: Those things aren’t even true.

CM: No.

DB: Were you at the first march (in 1991)?

CM: I was aware of the first demonstration of people. (…) I’ve been part of the memorial march for many, many years, but I wasn’t deeply immersed in co-ordinating it before.

David P. Ball

David P. Ball

David P. Ball is a reporter and photojournalist in Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish land. His website is On Twitter: @davidpball. Co-winner, with The Vancouver Observer, of the...