‘We call them our sis­ters’

March or­ga­nizer ex­plains why she’s been do­ing it since 1993

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - NEWS | VANCOUVER - David P. Ball

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

DAR­RYL DYCK/The CAnA­DIAn pRess

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