Remembering Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Two Indigenous KPU instructors and “Butterflies in Spirit” hosted an event to raise awareness on Sept. 26

(From left to right) Billie Jeanne Sinclair, KPU professors Melinda Bige and Lisa Monchalin, and Maranda Johnson. Jeanne, Monchalin and Johnson are members of “Butterflies in Spirit”. (Ashley Hyshka)

In Canada, around 1,000 Indigenous women and girls have been reported by the RCMP as missing or murdered over the last four decades. Other statistics put that number as high as 4,000.

KPU instructors Lisa Monchalin and Melinda Bige drew attention to that issue with an on-campus event called “Raising Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls”, hosted by the Indigenous Activism and Introduction to Indigenous Studies courses that they teach.

Students created posters stating that “Indigenous women are loved and valued” in class before proceeding to the KPU Surrey campus courtyard to hold a candle vigil and hang up red dresses as part of The REDress Project.

Bige says that she hopes the event brought “some attention to an issue that [students] may not know much about.”

“I’m just hoping that these students are able to look more critically at how…we’re still facing ongoing genocide today,” she says.

Tracy Pehar, a student in Bige’s class said people “normally don’t hear about [the murdered and missing Indigenous women] at all…so it’s nice to demonstrate that there is value there, and there’s awareness.”

Afterwards, students watched Vancouver-based dance group Butterflies in Spirit perform a song and dance in Monchalin’s classroom. The group was founded by Lorelei Williams in 2012 as a way to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls through dance. According to Monchalin, most members of Butterflies in Spirit are family members of the missing and murdered.

Students in Melinda Bige’s “Introduction to Indigenous Studies” class set up a candle light vigil during the “Raising Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” event at KPU. (Ashley Hyshka)

Although Williams couldn’t attend Bige and Monchalin’s event, the subject matter hits close to home for her. Her aunt Belinda Williams went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside four decades ago, and her cousin Tanya Holyk went missing in 1996. In 2003, Holyk’s DNA was later found on serial killer Robert Pickton’s farm.

Williams created “Butterflies in Spirit” to raise awareness for her aunt and cousin as part of a one-time event, but as more and more people wanted to join, it became an official organization. It has now been active since 2012.

 

Monchalin and Bige note that the issue of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women is deeply rooted in colonialism, racism, and sexism that goes back for centuries. In part, the dehumanization of Indigenous women caused the public and law enforcement to ignore the disappearances and murders, particularly from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the “Highway of Tears.”

Now a national inquiry about the murdered and missing Indigenous women has been set up, but has also fallen victim to many obstacles. Already, several commissioners have resigned from their positions. Back in 2012, the Wally Oppal inquiry failed because “they didn’t really give family members a chance to tell their story and their truths,” according to Jeanne.

The lecture theatre in Fir 128 was packed with attendees during the presentation, showing just how powerful the truth of these women can be.

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