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An organizer marches at the 19th Annual Missing Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver
Chris Bizzy/ Flickr

Remembering missing and murdered women

Aboriginal women over-represented in homicide rate

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In Canada, there are over 600 cases of Aboriginal women who have disappeared or been murdered over the past 30 years. Feb. 14 is a day to remember the missing women, and move towards changing the patriarchal and racist attitudes prevalent in society.

According to the Native Women's Association of Canada's database, Aboriginal women represent approximately 10 per cent of the total number of female homicides in the country, despite the fact that they make up just three per cent of the total female population.

The majority of these disappearances and deaths occur in Manitoba and Alberta.

"I talk to people about the numbers of missing and murdered women in Canada and they're dumbfounded," said Suzanne Dzus, the head organizer for the Calgary branch of the Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women.

"For a group that makes up so little of the population to be so over-represented in disappearances and murders, it's not something to be proud of. And this isn't just the Highway of Tears. I can give you a list of names of 93 women who were murdered in the Calgary area in the past 15 years alone."

Calgary's lack of awareness concerning its homicide rate is one reason why Dzus brought the march to the city in 2008.

"Nowadays everyone is so desensitized to these kinds of events that you can just not think about it," said Dzus. "But it's not that, it's not just what's happening on tv. This is happening in your province to women who live in your city."

Dzus said media reports often label, dehumanize and devalue life.

"If we see anything in print at all we'll see 'she was a hooker' or 'she was a drug addict.' Remember, these women have a family and they're real," she said.

Dzus stresses that the dehumanization and the violence against women is cyclical and doesn't end with First Nations.

"If you think you'll never be affected by it, if you're willing to just let it happen to another area of society, don't think it won't come back to you," said Dzus. "If it can happen to one, it can happen to all of us at some point in time."

Mount Royal University student Leita McInnis became personally involved with the cause this year after seeing a presentation by Dzus.

"I was so angry with the injustice and lack of social outcry for these missing and murdered women that I decided that rather than fuming and complaining I should take action," said McInnis.

McInnis urges other students to attend the event because it is "a great place to show that the way things are going when it comes to women's rights, prevalence of domestic violence and the racism behind unsolved crimes is unacceptable."

She said that the march is "a way to demand change while still honoring the women we have lost."

Attendees for the event range in age, ethnicity and gender, but the group is reaching out to men in particular.

"If we don't engage men in this issue it will never end. That's the bottom line," said Dzus. "Women aren't dying at the hands of women, they're dying at the hands of men."

The missing and murdered women are commemorated every February at the Calgary event, which draws 275-400 people each year. Other marches are happening nationwide in cities such as Vancouver, Victoria, Regina and Winnipeg as well.

Family and friends of victims are encouraged to bring posters and placards with pictures to shine a light on the life of their loved one.

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