Capitalizing on the 2010 Olympics

All Eyes on Us!
Capitalizing on the 2010 Olympics to Call International Attention to the 500+ Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

By Carmen Teeple Hopkins

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has confirmed that there are over 500 Indigenous women who are missing or who have been murdered in Canada over the past 30 to 40 years.  The disappearances and deaths of Indigenous women have received very little attention compared to their white counterparts, as well as inaction from the police, media, public, and government. This has led to considerable impunity of the state and perpetrators.

In particular, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) is an area that is known for an extremely high number of Indigenous women who have experienced violence.  It is also one of Canada’s most impoverished neighbourhoods.

Vancouver has been at the forefront of organizing annual memorial marches every February 14 to honour women who are missing or have been murdered from the DTES.  Although the Vancouver march is meant to acknowledge all women, Indigenous women are overrepresented in the DTES, and as a group that experiences violence.  Beginning in 1991, February 14, 2010 will mark the nineteenth annual Vancouver memorial march.  February 14, 2010 will also highlight day three of the 2010 Olympic winter games.

Since then, however, organizers have refused to be sidestepped by the Olympics and have made it clear that the march will take place.
Gladys Radek is a long-time activist around Indigenous women’s issues, one of the organizers of Vancouver’s memorial march, as well as co-organizer of the Walk4justice.  Like many Indigenous women, she is personally affected by this violence.  Her niece, Tamara Chipman, has been missing from what has been nicknamed, the Highway of Tears (a 700 km long part of Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George, BC known for a high number of disappearances of Indigenous women) since September 2005.

Radek outlines that the goal of the February 14, 2010 Vancouver memorial march will be to honour the missing/murdered women “with the eyes of the world on us”.  She estimates that the world is going to be amazed to learn that Canada has been able to hide the extremely high number of disappearances and murders, a phenomenon that has often been referred to as a national shame or Canada’s “dirty little secret”.  Radek sees the role of the media as one that “gets the word out” about these women, many of whom are Indigenous.

There has been a growing anti-Olympics movement in Vancouver and other parts of British Columbia.  One central aspect to this momentum is: “No Olympics on Stolen Land”, a slogan that refers to the illegal state and corporate use of land in Vancouver and outside of Vancouver to build facilities for the Olympics, when Indigenous title to the territory has never been ceded.  Many groups have begun to organize around the decrease of low-income housing over the past couple of years, while Vancouver prepares for the Olympics, a city that has seen an increasing homeless population and one that the police will likely displace as the Olympics near.

While Radek states that the organizing committee of the Vancouver memorial march “is very strong in building allies”, she also mentions that the memorial march will likely not fall under the typical anti-Olympic organizing that will be occurring simultaneously in Vancouver.  She comments that the march has always been and will continue to be about the women.  The march doesn’t accept agency banners or flags, but rather, focuses on the women and families most affected by this violence.  While anti-Olympic activists and supporters are welcome to participate in the march, they are asked to respect the principles and history of the march: remembering and honouring the women.

Entering its nineteenth year of existence, the 2010 memorial march in Vancouver is not being organized as a direct response to the Olympics, but will instead use the Olympics to further its cause, one that many Indigenous women have been fighting for over decades.

Furthermore, it has been predicted that women and children in Vancouver will experience a 10% to 36% rise in violence during the Olympic games.  Alarmingly, gender-based anti-violence organizations and support services in Vancouver have been told that they will not receive additional funding amidst the possible increase in numbers.  With this in mind, it becomes especially important to support the February 14 organizing being done across the country in 2010.

Groups across Canada have been working for many years to end violence against Indigenous women.  Vancouver’s February 14 march has inspired solidarity marches in other cities, including Toronto, London, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Regina and Winnipeg.  The year 2010 will mark Toronto’s fifth annual rally, organized by local group, No More Silence.

Radek has encouraged support and solidarity to take place outside of Vancouver.  She wants to see February 14 actions across the country and ensure that they are being held in all major hubs and cities.

Emphasizing the importance of family members of missing/murdered Indigenous women being involved in this work, she believes it is important for family members to know that they are not alone and to become familiar with the organizations that are already involved in this activism.  Radek also encourages groups outside of Vancouver to find ways to send family members and other supporters to Vancouver for the February 14, 2010 March.

The use of shaming Canada’s international reputation as a ‘peacekeeping’ country has been very important to some of Indigenous women’s activism over the past decades.  For instance, sexism within the Indian Act which meant that Indigenous women would lose status upon marriage to non-status men (which did not operate vice versa for men with status upon marriage to non-status women) took many years of struggle to change, but the accumulated organizing climaxed when Sandra Lovelace took her case to the United Nations toward the end of the 1970s.  The international embarrassment to Canada was a major factor in a 1985 change to the Indian Act that attempted to remedy the sexism.

Such changes to the Indian Act exemplify how Indigenous women have strategically used international institutions and opportunities to their advantage.  The 2010 Vancouver Olympics offers another possibility for international shame that Indigenous women are capitalizing on through political organizing.

There is certainly credence and a history of resistance by Indigenous women that gives weight to the utilization of the world’s gaze on Canada that Vancouver will see within the months to come.  For those outside Vancouver, let’s join them in solidarity on February 14, 2010 to send a message to the international community that this violence cannot continue.

The Toronto NMS rally and march will take place on Sunday February 14, 2010 at 12pm noon at the Toronto Police Headquarters at Bay and College.  A feast will follow the event at the Centre for Women and Trans People (University of Toronto) at 563 Spadina Ave.  For more information please contact: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or learn about NMS on Facebook.

No More Silence (NMS) is a group based out of Toronto that has existed for almost six years.  NMS consists of Indigenous women and allies who create inter/national networks to end violence against Indigenous women.  NMS situates this violence within an understanding that Canada is a white settler colony state and colonialism continues to operate in many different ways today.  NMS believes that all people have a responsibility to work toward decolonization, and to support struggles for Indigenous sovereignty.

Carmen Teeple Hopkins is a member of No More Silence

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