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Rally honours 25th anniversary of Montreal Massacre

Vigil spotlights missing and murdered aboriginal women

by Rebecca Zimmer

 Heavy rains on Saturday night moved the candle lit vigil inside but two volunteers kept their candles burning over Gottingen Street.
Heavy rains on Saturday night moved the candle lit vigil inside but two volunteers kept their candles burning over Gottingen Street.
Cathy Martin's Mi'kmaq drumming kicked off the rally Saturday night at the Company House on Gottingen Street.
Cathy Martin's Mi'kmaq drumming kicked off the rally Saturday night at the Company House on Gottingen Street.
Katelyn Armstrong and Eliza Leitch collect postcards done by the audience for their Halifax for a Public Inquiry letter writing campaign. Armstrong and Leitch started the project from a assignment at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie. The postcards will be taken to the House of Commons by NDP MP Megan Leslie.
Katelyn Armstrong and Eliza Leitch collect postcards done by the audience for their Halifax for a Public Inquiry letter writing campaign. Armstrong and Leitch started the project from a assignment at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie. The postcards will be taken to the House of Commons by NDP MP Megan Leslie.

It started with drums, a steady rhythm to still the crowd.

A fitting start to the “Not so Silent” vigil held at the Company House on Gottingen Street in Halifax on Saturday night, commemorating the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Alone on stage with her drum and haunting voice, documentary filmmaker Cathy Martin kicked off the annual event. Martin shared Mi'kmaq songs and stories about fellow aboriginal women, like Nora Bernard, Loretta Saunders, and Annie Mae Aquash, who all were working towards justice for missing aboriginal women when they disappeared. These women are now part of the more than 1000 cases of murdered or missing aboriginal women in Canada.

Matin believes First Nations women do not take enough ownership of Dec. 6, which is the day when 14 female engineering students were gunned down by Marc Lepine at Ecole Polytechnique during the Montreal Massacre 25 years ago. 

“We share this tragic memorial with all people; men and women," Martin said. 

Now, a quarter century after the tragic attack, Martin along with nearly 100 others gathered together, calling for an end of violence towards women, and asking for national inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women. 

Racism and a lack of social services have kept the disappearances of aboriginal women from being properly investigated, Martin told the crowd. It wasn't until a non-aboriginal woman was found murdered on the highway of tears that hundred of cases were brought to light, she said. 

“I know it's not delicate and sensitive material so it's not always easy to convict, but there needs to be some resolution for a lot of these. That's why I do this.”

Two Dalhousie students who attended the vigil have  recently launched a campaign in an effort to make this resolution into a reality. Eliza Leitch and Katelyn Armstrong, two social work student have together started a letter writing campaign called,  “Calling Cards: Halifax for a Public Inquiry," which they asked the attendees at the rally to help write. 

“We just felt overwhelmed with sadness and anger and we thought what could we do to take action,” Leitch said Saturday. 

Armstrong and Leitch provided blank postcards and craft supplies to the crowd, encouraging them to create their own “Calling Cards", which NDP MP Megan Leslie will be taking House of Commons for Stephen Harper to see. 

Harper has made earlier claims that he doesn't believe missing and murdered aboriginal women is a sociological phenomenon.

“If Harper throws these in the garbage we'll have physical evidence and acknowledgment that this happened,” Armstrong said. "He can't disregard our passion and our want for an inquiry.”

Along with a moment of silence to remember those women who were murdered or missing, the event's MC Lindsay Duncan also led the crowd in an moment of screaming. 

“It's important to have a not so silent vigil so there is time for people to express anger, to be heard and to be outraged by what is outrageous," she said. 

“Victims of gender violence are very often silenced,” Duncan explained. “The moment of screaming is an outlet for that.”

Saturday's event also included a performance by the Women Next Door acapella group  and a reading of Megan Leslie's love letter to Halifax feminists. Halifax's Poet Laureate, El Jones, also gave a powerful reading of her spoken poem, Rehtaeh.

“Say it so we know. Rehtaeh. Say it.
Say it because she cannot be lost,
Say it because she cannot be chased away," she said, her voice booming amidst the silence of the crowd. 

“For woman in particular to be able to acknowledge what's done to woman and then try to take steps to do any kind of advocacy is important," Jones said. 


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