I stopped writing after Vancouver. It wasn’t intentional. The last weeks of my trip slipped away from me so quickly, and soon enough I got lost in the summer haze. Now it’s December and before the year ends, I want to wrap my Watson trip in a couple of posts.
Let’s go back to June 15th, 2016.
After my road trip across BC, I returned to Vancouver and attended a three-day Feminist Gathering in response to the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. In December of last year, the Government of Canada launched an independent national inquiry into the 1,017 Aboriginal female homicide victims that were recorded between 1980 and 2012, and the 164 Aboriginal women currently considered missing. These numbers are outrageous especially when considering that Indigenous women make up 4 percent of Canada’s female population yet account for 16 percent of all women murdered in Canada.
It only took 32 years for the Canadian government to begin doing something (as Canadians would say: Shame!) Nonetheless, the intention and sentiment behind this gathering was an overall distrust of the inquiry. Why? Because feminist Indigenous women’s voices have been silenced on the issue of missing and murdered women for 32 years! The inquiry team was put together without the input of mothers, advocates, and activists who have been at the forefront demanding justice. Plus, it is no secret that RCMP (BC police) has been blamed by aboriginal communities, for having direct and indirect involvement in the deaths and disappearances. The women I met were interested in mobilizing a grassroots women’s movements that would lead their inquiry alongside Canada’s own. We need to pay attention and be ready to intervene.
The gathering was a beautiful space that fostered discussion and strategy among Indigenous and non-Indigenous women on this issue to build stronger networks. On the first day, we had a talking circle where we were asked to respond to the very difficult questions, When did you first break the silence? How many times have you broken the silence since then?
There must’ve been 80 women. Some of us young, others elders. Indigenous, non-Indigenous, immigrants. And there wasn’t one that didn’t speak about their experiences of violence. Elders who were residential schools survivors; women who had been sold into prostitution by their fathers; generational pain over drug addiction; suffering from being cut from culture, language, identity; pain from abuse, neglect – silence. It was a heavy evening where we all cried and listened with one another. We held witness to the violence we had suffered and held each other as broke the silence again, and again, and again, and again. My body physically hurt for hours as I, we, attempted to heal. Again, and again, and again.
The following two days were incredibly fruitful, full of challenging discussions, music, testimonies, and planning. During this weekend, I also turned twenty-three. The evening before, I had a goodbye dinner with a lovely Iranian woman I had interviewed a couple of weeks back. Afterwards, I went to the City of Bhangra Festival, a performing arts festival in Vancouver celebrating the dance and music of the Punjab regions of Pakistan and India, and danced in the rain. The dancing continued at a local bar with the three Mexican friends who I was staying with. When the clock struck twelve, I heard the DJ called out my name over the speaker.
I felt really lucky to welcome my birthday surrounded by new friends and all of the women at the conference. This day also marked the 11th month of my trip away from home, and more dauntingly, the countdown of the o n e m o n t h I had left.
Next post, Guatemala.