Hundreds gathered on Friday to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people
In spite of the blistering cold, hundreds of Indigenous peoples and allies stood outside the Toronto police headquarters for the 15th annual Strawberry Ceremony to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people.
The hour-long ceremony featured the observation and payment of respects through speeches, songs and dances. The group was led by Wanda Whitebird, an elder of the Mi’kmaq nation Bear Clan, who has held the event for the past 15 years.
Attendees were given a strawberry and a small cup of water for the ceremony. The strawberry, which is also referred to as a heart berry because of its shape, is known as ode’min in Ojibwe and is a traditionally women’s fruit.
“These strawberries represent love and courage,” said Whitebird, who began a blessing offering thanks to Mother Earth before the water and fruits were consumed.
Family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women also shared their personal stories and called for change in the police and justice systems with regards to Indigenous lives. According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous women are three times more likely to be victims of violence than non-Indigenous women and are six times more likely to be murdered.
Last June, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released a 1,000-page final report stating that the violence against Indigenous women, girls and other marginalized people is “a national tragedy of epic proportion.”
The report found that multigenerational trauma, insecure housing and barriers to education, health care and cultural support are some of the reasons that make these groups more vulnerable to violence. The inquiry report also listed 231 calls for justice directed at governments and institutions.
In a pamphlet handed out at the ceremony, an incomplete list outlined over 100 names of those who have died or gone missing in Ontario, with some being as recent as this month. Speakers at the ceremony acknowledged that every year, more names are added.
The first memorial march for Indigenous women was held in 1991 in downtown Vancouver and numerous offshoots occur every Valentine’s Day nationwide. Toronto’s Strawberry Ceremony was launched in 2006 by No More Silence, an organization that works with the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Maggie’s and other Indigenous and feminist community members.
The 15th annual Strawberry Ceremony was followed by a short march towards Yonge Street and then north to the YMCA, where a feast was held.