Mourning Carries Us Like A Current
Thousands of names of missing and murdered women.
Each time the number of Indigenous girls and women whose lives have been cut short due to violence is debated in the news, I sigh. I sigh a deep breath of resentment that we are still caught up in a numbers game in which one lost life should be more than enough to incite outrage. I sigh a breath of grief, the depths of which I
can never quite grasp. I, like
many Indigenous women, are engaged in a constant process of mourning the loss of our loved ones, while supporting our friends who have also lost loved ones and remembering our ancestors’ lost loved ones as well. While we grieve, we take action to prevent our children and grandchildren from having to live in constant mourning for their own loved ones.
This mourning is in each breath, carrying me like a current into tomorrow.
Grieving old and new losses takes a great deal of energy, which is compounded by the mental, physical and emotional work of engaging with state systems that continue to dehumanize us. What we have lost goes much deeper than the individual family members whose lives we mourn. Our grief is intergenerational; this is not a new phenomenon, but one as old as colonialism itself. One by one, colonial logics turn our loved ones into statistics. I see the usefulness in gathering names and cases to demonstrate the enormity of this injustice, to account for each life as part of a larger pattern of violence. Yet, as the numbers climb higher with each new death, will they ever be enough to compel the changes that will transform this culture of violence? Having focused on issues of violence for many years, I am feeling damned tired of all these numbers. So I focus on the terms by which we recognize one another, one person at a time.
This is why it is so vital that we come together each February to walk with one another in collective remembrance.
For many of us, it is not the number 800 or 600 or 2000 that brings us together, but the name of one woman we still think about every day. A woman whose face we still think we see in a crowd, before remember that she is gone. A mother whose tender hands we still dream of. Or for some, it is two aunties, or three, or more…and each one still lights up our heart with fond memories. Bringing us out of our solitary grief, gathering together to march each year in memory of missing and murdered girls and women allows us to renew ourselves and to give our loved ones the honor they deserve. Walking side by side, we form relationships built on respect and shared values, which work against the normalized violence we still face.
Each February, I walk in memory of the loved ones who have been lost. But I also walk to remember the other forms of violence that serve to dehumanize us as Indigenous women. We must remember that murders and abductions are extreme forms of violence facing the Indigenous girls and women in our communities. Many other forms of violence occur on a daily basis, as part of the conditions in which murders continue to go unsolved. Over the years of listening to women talk about violence in their lives, I have commonly heard about a continuum of violence experienced across a woman’s lifetime. Sexual violence, emotional abuse, and racism are all related to the violence that ultimately ends a life. So we must remember that some of the murdered and abducted women experienced many forms of violence before their lives were cut short.
The ongoing, persistent nature of this interpersonal violence is deeply connected to the violence of law itself. Colonialism has involved the imposition of a system in which “justice” is defined in terms that depersonalize the crimes against us. Walking together in collective mourning is itself about healing the dehumanization of law’s violence. Engaging in truly meaningful acts of connection and ceremony allow us to see one another in our wholeness – decolonial actions if ever there were ones, in a society founded on our erasure.
As Audrey Huntley says in her recent article about the upcoming strawberry ceremony in Toronto, ceremony is an act of sovereignty. We must always remember that the first memorial march held 23 years ago in Vancouver’s downtown east side, was led by Indigenous women and other community members in response to the murder of a Coast Salish woman. The leadership of Indigenous women continues to bring us together across Turtle Island, as part of larger processes of cultural and political revitalization in Indigenous communities. Remembering our lost loved ones is integral to stopping violence, and to reworking the terms by which we recognize one another. Where the Canadian legal system creates divisions and distance between us, Indigenous law can nurture intimacy and strengthen our relationships.
So as we gather together on February 14 in our local communities, we walk in solidarity with one another and in collective mourning. We remember our aunties, mothers and daughters, one by one, whose lives were taken too soon. Whether we cite the number of Indigenous girls and women who have died in our city, our region, across this country or across Turtle Island, we know the numbers are far greater than we can fathom. And we know that even one violent death is one too many.
Together, we form a network that is not in reference to a violent legal order, but in reference to our older relationships with the land, with the supernatural world, and with one another. We form a network of people walking in honor not only of the individual people we have lost to these interwoven violences, but also in honor of our ancestors who first fought against the onslaught of policies rooted in our dehumanization.
The depths of our remembrance resonate across this land, invigorating a deep love for our relations and calling for a better tomorrow.
Sarah Hunt (Ph.D. cand.) is a writer and activist from the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. Follow her on Twitter: @thesarahhunt
Women’s Memorial March photo via David P Ball