Dozens of people gathered in Watson Lake and Whitehorse the afternoon of June 23 for marches to denounce violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Margaret Charlie, the organizer of the Watson Lake march and an advocate for Kaska women and girls, said in a phone interview that she was moved to take action after a “pretty violent” incident in her community about two weeks ago, where a young woman was beaten by a man out on bail.
The woman, she said, had been previously assaulted by the same person but the man has not faced repercussions.
“The justice system failed our people, so that’s the reason why I did that, on behalf of our women’s safety,” Charlie said of organizing the march.
She added that the community has seen an increase in violence, as well as alcohol and drug abuse, since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“The reason why I did this is because we have to start standing, we have to say, ‘No more violence in the community…’ I have two young granddaughters and I’m doing that for my granddaughters and those ones who are so in the closet and too scared to come out — we are here for them.”
The Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society also hosted an associated vigil at the Wye Lake cabin on June 18.
Charlie said about 120 Watson Lakers attended the march that travelled from Tag’s to Watson Lake Foods and back.
Watson Lake resident Brandy Tizya told the News over the phone that participating in the march made her feel “empowered and strong and brave,” particularly because many young women and people from “all walks of life” also came out.
She added that she has two young daughters, ages 8 and 11, who are growing up “very fast.”
“I did this walk today to show them … how important (it is) to protect and respect our women, and I want to help them grow up in a healthy environment with no fear of being abused,” Tizya said. “And I hope and pray we reach out to those that are suffering in silence and break the trauma and to surround all the individuals who are suffering, to support them on their healing journey.”
In Whitehorse, a few dozen people gathered at the healing totem pole downtown to walk along Front Street and down to Rotary Park in support of the march in Watson Lake.
Ta’an Kwäch’än Council elder Shirley Adamson gave opening remarks before the march and dedicated her words to Tracey White, a Whitehorse woman who died earlier this month and whom Adamson said “did so much to advance the strength and the support of Aboriginal women, of culture, and of women generally.”
“Violence against women is not a new thing,” Adamson said. “Violence against women is captured in so many different ways and we see it, we read it about it. When it seems like the norm, we develop an apathy to that kind of behaviour… Aboriginal women, we face violence every day. It may not be a backhand across our face, it may a backhand across our emotions, and it all hurts, it all hurts equally.”
Violence against Indigenous women, she continued, is a learned behaviour, one that she traced back to the introduction of the Indian Act. The act, she explained, all but erased the critical roles of Indigenous women, taking power away from matriarchs and handing it over to men instead.
“You’re led to believe women are of no value and Aboriginal women in particular are not even people,” Adamson said. “Then you begin to see how easy it is to strike them, to beat them, to verbally abuse them… It’s ugly, and it needs to be held up so that we can see the ugliness of our souls for either targeting people like that and being an aggressor or standing by and doing and saying nothing.”
Nika Young, who attended the Whitehorse march along with two of her cousins, said it was particularly important for her to participate because her cousin, Cynthia Blackjack was “murdered by the system.”
Blackjack, a Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation citizen, died in 2013 while being medevaced from Carmacks to Whitehorse. A coroner’s inquest earlier this year found that her death was an accident but made several recommendations on improving health care access and providing better cultural training for healthcare providers in the community.
“We are just here to say, you know, stop the violence against women and we’re not next and that it needs to stop, there needs to be a change and we’re going to make the change,” Young said.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org