Continued from the last post [all photos courtesy of Jimmy and digitally enhanced by me].
Valentine’s Day was perhaps just like any other day of the year, but today I was doing something different, something that had already been going on in Vancouver for 21 years, every Valentine’s, but something that only a selection of people really know about.
Getting off the “8 Downtown” bus in front of Carnegie Centre, I was greeted by the sight of a huge group of people on the sidewalk in front of the community centre, spilling out onto the streets. There was food being handed out and people were standing in their own clusters, with a handful of people alone, slightly on the outskirts. I was one of those people; it felt intrusive somehow, to go up to these intimate clusters of people, because it wasn’t my grief, my sorrow, to share in.
Before the actual marching part of the march started, we followed the drums and the elders to the intersection of the street outside of Carnegie Centre. There, we had what I could only describe as a “drum round”, and the song was sung that would be a continuous motif running through the narrative of the march. [I apologize for the audio quality in advance, I didn’t take it, but am glad someone did!]
During this time, quilts, signs and banners were lifted, and what really touched me in particular were the purple signs that were being stuck onto the quilt banners, signs that have each of the missing women’s names and picture on them, as you can see below. It was a time of mourning, of grief, but of rejuvenation as well. There was so much vitality in all the colours of the traditional clothing, the quilts, the roses, and in the sound of the beating drums, and the women’s voices leading the song.
The march is to remember the missing women from Downtown Eastside and is a form of peaceful protest as to why, after these 21 long years, the situation has not improved. There was one particular sign that really echoed this sentiment, although unfortunately we did not manage to capture the front of the sign. I remember that it had a pair of bloody hands on them, as well as the RCMP logo and words holding both the RCMP and the justice system accountable for the situation in the Downtown Eastside. Here is the back of that sign, featuring Cameron Ward and Neil Chantler, the lawyers who represent the families of the women brutally murdered by Robert Pickton:
When we passed by the Vancouver police station for the first time at the beginning of the march, there was one lone police officer there, watching the procession. At that time, I couldn’t help wondering what he must’ve felt, being the one standing there. He probably didn’t want to be the one standing there, but it was his duty to do so. Did he wish us gone, so his job would be easier? Did he perhaps feel guilty, helpless, or just numb and desensitized to something that has been happening around him for so many years? Being in the procession myself, I couldn’t help but think our march was a kind of brave deviance, because it was clear the guy would very much rather we weren’t there.
In traditional First Nations culture as I’ve learned, women are at the centre of the community, playing a role that is at least equal to, if not more, than the role men play. It came as no surprise then, that it was the women who led the songs, who organized the events, who are dressed as the Elders that they are, commanding the respect that they deserve and completing derailing the first wave feminist view about Western women being treated better by their men than women of all non-Western cultures. For those who attended the march who know next to nothing about Indigenous culture in Canada [I can’t claim to know much either, but it’s slowly improving], were you able to observe this fact? Do you understand the danger of “speaking for others” without truly understanding the culture and perspectives of those you think you are speaking for?
We were quite literally walking on rose petals the entire time. At first, I thought it was just coincidence because of Valentine’s, and then I saw these women holding baskets of roses and I knew. During one of our stops, a man in a wheelchair was sobbing upon seeing us and saying how we should always protect our women. One of the kind organizers gave him a rose and wished him a happy Valentine’s. It is extraordinary how just one small act of kindness could give someone hope again.
Already, since today is the 20th, I have forgotten much about the march itself and the various bits of my memory attached to it. What I have to say though, is that if you didn’t stay until the very end to hear the speech given in front of the police station back where the march had started, it would’ve been like you were never at the march at all. Although I can no longer remember the words that were said, that last speech made all the walking and waiting in the cold worthwhile. I remember thinking “This is why I am here”.
A couple more pictures to wrap up:
You didn’t think I would end this post without something related to graffiti to show for it after all?