Valentine's Day Women's
Memorial March

Thursday, February 14, 1997

I had heard that there was to be a march this morning for all the prostitutes who had been murdered on the Downtown Eastside. I was a bit cynical about going to this event, having never gone to one before and not knowing who it was organized by. (I don't live or work in the Downtown Eastside and have been in Vancouver two years.) I figured it would be some political event where a bunch of people get together to mourn the deaths of people that they have never known. I was really wrong.

The march has been organized by 1997 Women's Memorial March Committee with the participation from the "Healing Ourselves and Our Communities." This was sixth annual women's memorial march. Their handout listed 118 women who had died since 1986, plus another twenty died in the last year. It was very evident that this was a room full of people who cried for people they knew and loved.

The memorial before the march began at about 10:30 in the morning, mostly people slowly gathering in the community room in the Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings. There were donuts and coffee and two drumming circles, a men's circle and a women's circle and the event began with drumming. Next were the opening speeches from elders. For opening prayer we all held hands. The room was packed standing room only in the back most of the crowd were Aboringinal people. Relatives of women who had been murdered gave speeches as well.

Speakers at the community centre included Mary Uslic, Vince Stogan, Simon Baker Kelly White, Leigh Harris. Some of the speeches had a more political tone, and some very angry. The overall feeling was summed up by a very poignant point made by a mother of a girl who was murdered. This was not a political event. This was a time to remember lost loved ones who have gone and to know their spirits are among us and within us. This is a time for healing. It gave the whole event a kind of clear focus for the excursion.

When the ceremony was over, a medicine woman, Lorelei Hawkens, smudged us one-by-one as we left. When the MC "Marlene Trick" told us about the smudging, she also removed that if you were on moon time, you didn't need to be smudges because you were naturally cleansing.

We walked down the streets (I'd say 170 people) through the Downtown Eastside and stopped at about four different spots, paying respects and picking up more people, before stopping in front of the Vancouver Police Station. One the steps of the station Viola Thomas and Arleena Jones gave much more political speeches. They pointed out the very high statistics of deaths of native women, drug related, suicides, but particularly murders. They pointed out how the majority of the cases go unsolved. They complained that police and politicians are more interested in putting big budgets into protecting things like the Pacific Rim Economic Summit, rather than doing something about the murders happening to people on their streets. Mostly Aboriginal people. Our march was followed up by the men's drumming circle.

From the police station we marched down to Openheimer park for more prayers. (Oppenheimer park is in the Downtown Eastside, and well-known as a well-used park.) We formed a huge circle in the drizzle (and some of us in the mud) which took quite a bit of organizing and coaxing to get it big enough, holding hands and really a circle. Several people went around and handed out candles. The relatives of people who had died were called to make a knot in the centre of the circle with the drumming circle. The circle of candles were lit and prayers were said by elders from the centre while the medicine woman went around circle and smudged us. (smudging involves having a smoking, smouldering, pungent bundle wave over your face). I have to admit there was a well of tears for me for a few moments during this whole ceremony as I remembered few people who I knew who have died.

After this ceremony the people left from the march headed down to a little community hall (The Japanese Hall), an old little building with an auditorium, not far from the water (an industrial docks area). There was welcoming and prayer before getting ready to eat. Volunteers served plates of the homemade food (beans, cornbread, rolls and sausages, and lots of stuff) starting with the tables with elders and relatives.

I approached the MC from the event earlier and asked her where she said the meeting about legalizing prostitution was going to be held. She informed me that there was a "suit" walking around talking about it and that I should go ask him. I did so, and got the information. I had a short discussion with him during which he said, "Arrest the drug dealers. Girls get hooked on drugs. They get AIDS they give it to their clients and then clients pass it on to their wives and girlfriends. Prostitution should legalized and girls should have health checks." I told him I disagreed, then headed home in the rain. It was an emotionally exhausting day.


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Created: March 23, 1997
Last modified: February 14, 2018
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