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Several hundred mourners of missing and murdered aboriginal women collected at police headquarters on College, Thursday, February 14, for an outpouring of collective resolve.
A sea of black signs with the names and ages of those lost to violence filled the copshop courtyard, the sounds of drums and throat singing reverberating off the pink granite.
The venue was chosen to highlight the fact First Nation women are often considered to be unworthy of state protection - a point made astoundingly clear by a Human Rights Watch report issued just two days earlier.
The searing indictment of the BC RCMP accused the force of abusing Native women, refusing to protect them from assault and neglecting to seriously investigate their suspected murders. Mirroring the longstanding demand by aboriginal orgs, the document called for a national inquiry.
No question, the annual February 14 memorial, with its bitter sadness, is not the easiest event to attend, though organizers work hard to create a vibe of hope and endurance. This year, in a most unhappy conflict, it overlapped time-wise with the global feminist One Billion Rising anti-violence fest at City Hall.
Even before the vigil's raw testimonials, I was finding it a psychic challenge to write in my notebook. The Strong Woman Song, which originated in Kingston's Prison for Women did me in completely in with its transcendent wail - and I remembered a healing circle I attended there once, a mixture of anguish and pure spirit.
Filmmaker and No More Silence activist Audrey Huntley told the crowd with the relevant degree of fury that "Native women are hated to the point that they can be killed with impunity.'' I couldn't help wonder how the officers inside their pink carapace were taking the emotionality they were hearing.
Wanda Whitebird led a strawberry ceremony, ecumenically asking those present to "pray to whoever you pray to.'' The fruit is traditionally offered, she said, "to those who struggle. When we work on the streets, we give out strawberries.''
Then the personal stories. A young man with sweetgrass wrapped around his wrist told of losing two sisters; Thunder, once a missing woman herself, described her beating by police. Candice remembered her mother murdered at 32 years old and how she herself had almost lost her life to a beating by her partner. "I'm here to do what my mother couldn't,'' she said.
And because gatherings like this are fine-tuned for solace, the vigil ended with a meal, cooked by NaMeRes staff and served at 519 Church.
But not before the Travelling Song sent participants safely on their journey.