As a young indigenous woman, Lyric Seabrook said she finds it scary so many Aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or gone missing.
That's why the 17-year-old Grade 12 Sudbury Secondary School student decided to attend the Sisters in Spirit rally and march in downtown Sudbury Oct. 2, honouring the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women.
Similar events are being held across the country over the next few days. “It's important for me to be here, because it adds another voice of a community of people that aren't usually heard,” Seabrook said.
Indigenous women often refer to each other as sisters, she said. “To know I have sisters out there that haven't come home to their family, it's really heartbreaking,” Seabrook said.
Fourth-year indigenous social work student Crystal Kimewon was the MC at the event, which was organized by the N'Swakamok Native Friendship Centre.
She quoted a study done by the RCMP in 2014 that put the total of missing and murdered Aboriginal women at 1,181.
Kimewon said she thinks that number is actually higher — the event's organizers estimate 1,500 — because police reports don't always include the victim's race.
“This issue, which I choose to call an epidemic, is very dear to me,” she said. “When I learned that Aboriginal women are three times more likely to be victims of violence than non-Aboriginal women and four times more likely to be murdered than our non-indigenous sisters, I felt a sense of fear, not only for myself, but for my daughter.”
When a non-Aboriginal woman is murdered, there's a public outcry, Kimewon said, but the murder of an Aboriginal woman doesn't attract the same attention.
“What does this all mean?” she said. “It means the Aboriginal woman in western society is insignificant. That the loss of her life means very little.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to launch a national inquiry into the issue because he said these are individual acts of crime, and not a social phenomenon.
“This is directly related to how society as a whole views the Aboriginal woman, thus making it a social phenomenon,” Kimewon said.
Indigenous women are disproportionately at risk of going missing or being murdered, N'Swakamok board president Brad Robinson said.
“Around 20 per cent of those are actually Aboriginal women, and only three per cent of women in Canada are Aboriginal women,” he said. “Obviously there's a big discrepancy.”
The Aboriginal support worker at Lasalle Secondary School, Robinson said he's raised the issue with his students, who are fearful, given the statistics. That's “not the way they should be living,” he said.
Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pederson, who was invited to speak at the event, said it's not enough for police to just investigate these crimes.
“We're not just sitting here, waiting for another young girl to be found dead,” he said.
“That's when it's far too late to get into action. I'm thrilled to say we're working here with N'Swakamok Friendship Centre, along with a whole bunch of other community service providers, and already starting to build our very own, made-in-Sudbury strategy to prevent future cases of murdered and missing indigenous women.
“Our goal is to work together to build the partnerships to take a holistic approach in ending violence against Aboriginal women, and education and awareness are key strategies in preventing this violence. That's why today is such an important day.”