February 14 has significance for many different people—Valentine’s Day, V-Day (a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls), and now 1 Billion Rising. But in Indian Country for more than 20 years, it’s always been a strategic day to organize, resist and unite in song to demand action.
The year 2013 marks the 22nd annual Women’s Memorial March, started in the downtown Eastside of Vancouver to honor the lives of missing and murdered women. Now with a global reach and ripples of determination to organize that can be felt across Turtle Island, the marches have become critical in ensuring violence from the state, including systemic, structural, and institutional violence, does not go unaccounted for.
Audrey Huntley, one of the founders of No More Silence who have been organizing the memorial marches in Toronto for the last 8 years shared this context on a recent blog for Battered Women’s Support Services: “We choose to come together at police headquarters in order to highlight the impunity that Canada affords killers of poor and marginalized women—women not deemed worthy of state protection and Indigenous women targets of the genocidal policies inherent to a settler state. We do not ask for the state’s permission in doing so and instead honour the sovereignty of the Indigenous peoples that have shared the caretaking responsibilities of this land for thousands of years.”
The need for the state to account for the violence it is also responsible for was all too clearly evident in the chilling 89-page report released yesterday from Human Rights Watch aptly titled; “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada.” Women, families and communities have known for quite some time the direct connection between violence from the state, violence on the land, and interpersonal violence.
“Indigenous women remain targets for violence(s) as we have been since the European invasion. For me and for Families of Sisters in Spirit, the focus always starts with and goes back to the voices of Indigenous women and families and what is happening in our everyday lives under colonialism. We are the ones living it, and we are the ones who know what is best for our families, communities and Nations. It is meaningless if our actions are not led by us.” Colleen Cardinal, Plains Cree from Treaty 6, Saddle Lake Alberta, with Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS).
As Colleen Cardinal says, it is crucial that events on February 14 realize this historical legacy but also the long legacy of Indigenous women leading, organizing and mobilizing events to rise up against the violence. And with that, 2013 has also seen the creation of “All Nations Rising in Indian Country” started by the Save Wiyabi Project:
“My co-founder; Jessa Rae Growing Thunder, decided we needed to put out a call to action to Indian Country to rise on V-day, because what better way for us as people to stop violence against us than to dance it away. Dancing is how we heal, pray, socialize and tell stories so it's important for us to include our voice in 1 Billion Rising. All Nations Rising was created so people could find out what events were happening in their community, or post their events for others to see.” Lauren Chief Elk, co-founder of Save Wiyabi Project.
Today our organization, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network is honored to participate and speak out with our sisters at events in Louisiana and Toronto. We also created this Valentine’s Card to send to our HIV-positive sisters as asked for by Love Positive Women: Romance Starts at Home:
So whether you’ve been marching for the last 22 years or are just beginning to dance this year, may the love, legacy and actions of February 14 be a time to remember that you are not alone. We’re rising with you.
Jessica Danforth is the founder and executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network that works across the United States and Canada in the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health by and for Indigenous youth.