‘We call them our sisters’
March organizer explains why she’s been doing it since 1993
Evelyne Youngchief remembers the first time she marched for fellow Indigenous women who disappeared.
It was Valentine’s Day 1993. The then 32-year-old had just dropped her son off at daycare in the Downtown Eastside when a group marched past, carrying banners bearing names of missing loved ones.
“I’d heard women talking about it in the women’s centre,” the Cree advocate, originally from a first nation near Edmonton, recalled in a phone interview.
“It was overwhelming because I knew that what they were doing meant a lot.
“I marched that day, I couldn’t go the entire way with them — just a few blocks — but it was really touching. The following year, it was a little bigger … It’s been a long road since.”
Years later, Youngchief is a member of the Women’s Memorial March Committee, a group of veteran women’s advocates who plan the annual event held every Feb. 14, led by families of those lost.
The RCMP estimates at least 1,200 Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada, dozens if not hundreds of them in B.C.
Youngchief’s first march was the march’s third, and she believes she’s only missed six — including the one after she testified at the trial of serial killer Robert Pickton about her fellow Cree friend Georgina Papin, a writer, artist and mother of seven who disappeared at age 34 in 1999. Papin was one of the six women he was convicted of killing; the Crown dropped his 20 other murder charges.
“Some of us have lost many sisters to violence,” Youngchief said. “Some are still missing, we don’t know where they are.
“I march because a lot of these women were my friends who died. So many in different ways — killed in hotel rooms, on Pickton’s farm, overdosing. I march for their kids and to support their families.”
This year’s march takes place during the worst drug overdose crisis in B.C. history, with 914 people killed last year, many linked to the deadly opiate fentanyl.
“This deadly drug is taking so many women very young,” she said. “Some are single moms being taken. Every time I go on Facebook, somebody else has passed away.
“Money is needed for treatment centres, especially also outside the downtown area. And we need a Downtown Eastside women’s Native health and wellness centre with our own healers — we’ve been fighting for that for over 30 years.
This year’s Women’s Memorial March will begin at noon on Tuesday at the corner of Main Street and Hastings Street, and end at Crab Park. Participants are asked not to bring their own signs out of respect for families of missing and murdered women.
The march is held to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, with stops along the way to commemorate where women were last seen or found. That’s why i walk every Feb. 14, to remember them on a day of love. evelyne Youngchief