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How many have to die? Walk4Justice Wants Answers for Missing Native Women

Part two in a series from Valerie Taliman on this year's Walk4Justice March from Vancouver, British Columbia to Parliament Hill in Ottawa to remember the missing and murdered Native women of Canada—a number that now has 720 names documented, not to mention the potential for many others.

OTTAWA – Nearly 5,000 kilometers after they left Vancouver on two routes winding across Canada, the Walk4Justice organizers and families arrived in Ottawa with a sense of purpose and heaviness in their hearts.

As they gathered at the Minwaashin Lodge for a home-cooked meal provided by local supporters, the mothers and grandmothers spoke solemnly about the 37 additional names added to the list of missing and murdered women since they left Vancouver in June. It now stands at 720 documented cases – and that’s just the ones they know about.

It’s been one year since Ashley Machisknic, 22, was thrown from a fifth-floor window of the Regent Hotel in Vancouver last September. She died shortly after, and police ruled it a suicide, sparking an uproar from community leaders and family members who insist that Machisknic would not take her own life.

Her grandmother, Serina Worm, was upset by the news that yet another woman died at the Regent Hotel last week in the same manner. The body of Verna Simard, 50, was found in the alley behind the hotel on September 16, when Vancouver Police determined that she had plunged six stories to the street below. Police are investigating a man who lives there, but no charges have been filed yet.

Worm has joined the effort to help document the missing and murdered, and was cross-checking names in their data base for “The List” they plan to hand to government officials contained updated information they collected in recent weeks.

On the night before the families visit Parliament Hill for a September 19 rally and appointments with Members of Parliament, they fortified themselves in an Ottawa hotel room with smudging, prayers and happier memories of their loved ones.

But the mood turned somber when national news came on television with an update about a missing blonde in Aruba whose disappearance has captured international attention for weeks now.

“What about our women? We brought evidence that hundreds of Native women are missing, yet we don’t command this kind of attention. Why not, because we’re not white?” asked Bernie Williams, co-founder of Walk4Justice.

The evidence Williams has is contained in a large blue binder filled with names, photos, and anecdotal evidence of their disappearance or murders. Much of this information has been shared with police by families, but police have failed to solve all but a few cases, and too often dismissed families’ pleas for help.

When no one investigates or solves the case, it’s torture for families left waiting and wondering if they will ever see their children again. There’s no closure, only hope and pain.

“We are losing another generation of our children,” said Williams. “We lose them to streets, we lose them to predators, and we lose them to foster care. All those children in care are now being raised by immigrants, so how are our children supposed to learn their own culture? I’m convinced Canada is systemically targeting us so that we don’t reproduce. They are trying to get rid of us to get to the land and the resources.”

Nearby at the Minwaashin Lodge, an Aboriginal women’s support center, families and supporters were constructing frames and draping material over 15 coffins to be carried to Parliament Hill representing all the provinces and territories in Canada where Native women went missing or were murdered.

Thousands of paper butterflies containing the names of the women were being attached to the coffins to commemorate their lives.

Gladys Radek, co-founder of Walk4Justice, said, “Canada should be ashamed of this kind of history. These are crimes against humanity and should be held accountable. We need to stop this ongoing violence against women, the lifegivers of our societies.

“This hasn’t been easy for the families who are affected by the loss of loved ones. We’ve heard over and over again how Canada is failing miserably to protect the most vulnerable citizens of this country – the women and children. We’ve heard how the justice system has failed when it come to the First Nations communities, and how the systemic racism has affected virtually every First Nation in this country. We’ve had enough. How many have to die before we get justice?”

For more about Violence Against Women click on the following links.

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March 2011 Series

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Valerie Taliman’s 2010 Series on Missing and Murdered Women

Other Media Outlets

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Missing women inquiry holds northern B.C. forums