Aboriginal Law Association organizes 13 Days to Honour Aboriginal Women
By Jim Hynes
In 2007, Robert Pickton was convicted of murdering six women on his farm in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. In 2010 it was announced he would not be tried in 20 other cases he had been charged in. Police, meanwhile, think he may have killed a further 23 women.
As many as 43 women, many of them Aboriginal women fleeing abusive situations, are thought to have disappeared along B.C.’s notorious Highway of Tears. But the authorities there are only officially investigating the murder or disappearance of a fraction of that number.
So who is looking for the rest of these women, or those responsible for their deaths? Who speaks for them?
“There’s a real push this year to bring awareness to the issue of missing and murdered women across this country,” said Eden Alexander, a first-year McGill Law student and a member of McGill’s Aboriginal Law Association (ALA).
The ALA, Alexander said, is one of several groups trying to draw attention to the plight of aboriginal women, and also to the void left in the wake of budget cuts to programs like Sisters in Spirit, a Native Women’s Association of Canada research, education and policy initiative that collected data on murdered and missing women.
To shed some much-needed light on the subject, the ALA recently organized a series of events under the name 13 Days to Honour Aboriginal Women. The initiative was launched with a panel discussion moderated by Colleen Sheppard of McGill’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism and featuring panellists from the groups Walk4Justice and Amnesty International Canada. The events concluded on March 20 with a fundraising dinner benefiting the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.
“It’s our way of trying to honour the traditions of the 13 indigenous clan mothers while at the same time educating the public about missing and murdered women under an umbrella of respect and honour for all women,” Alexander said of 13 Days.
The initiative’s main event was the Empty Shoe Vigil in Ottawa last Friday (March 18). A group of approximately 90 Aboriginal women’s rights supporters placed some 400 pairs of shoes on the steps in front of the Parliament Buildings, where various speakers were addressing the topic of missing or murdered Aboriginal women.
“The shoes represent women who can’t speak for themselves anymore,” Alexander said. “The idea was to provide a visual representation for Members of Parliament or anyone else who was there to see the whole picture. Part of what makes this the greatest tragedy is that we’re losing the people who bring forward our next generations. And that’s leaving a big hole in the communities that are affected.”
The ALA is mostly comprised of McGill Law students, but membership is open to all students. The group’s mission is to raise awareness in the McGill community about issues that effect Aboriginal communities, especially issues that are related to justice.
“This year is a big year of activity for us compared to other years,” Alexander said. “Membership is growing, and we’re looking forward to having even more people involved.”
To contact the ALA, email firstname.lastname@example.org.