For 26 years, the sound of drums has echoed through Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Valentine's Day with hundreds marching each year to remember murdered and missing indigenous women and to demand that the violence stop.

The event has grown steadily and there are now other marches in cities like Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto and Montreal.

"This is a very important day, particularly in the City of Vancouver," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. "We have a horrendous history that we still live with today and women and girls need to be protected and taken care of in the community."

Women's Memorial March Vancouver smoke

Some participants at the Women's Memorial March are hopeful a federal commitment to a national inquiry into murdered and missing women will help end the cycle of violence. (CBC)

This year in Vancouver, though, there is a sense of optimism as preliminary work is now underway for a national inquiry into murdered and missing women.

"At least someone is listening, the federal government is listening," said marcher Myrna Cranmer.

Still it's a cautious optimism for some like Fay Blaney who is an indigenous woman and an organizer of the march.

"We're still pressing for women's groups to be heard within that process," she said. "Currently they've consulted with families and within that front line service providers have entered that space but there have been tensions with families."

"I want to believe, I really want to believe [in the inquiry]," added Audrey Siegl. "But even the way it's started, it's being treated like a business rather than healing and ceremony and that's not going to solve the problem."

Still, though the attendance of the new federal Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould could be seen as a sign of Ottawa's commitment. 

She has participated in the event for a number of years, but this was the first time she did so while representing the federal government.

"We've committed first and foremost to meet with the families," she said. "Certainly we've committed to working with organizations, aboriginal organizations, women's organizations, front line workers. We welcome all contributions and persepctives."

Mayor Robertson says the city is ready to support the federal government with the inquiry and also make sure it is inclusive.

"We're very thankful that the minister and the federal government have made the commitment for an inquiry," he said. "We'll be looking forward to supporting that in every way we can, along with our efforts to support their commitment of reconciliation and making sure the calls to action are acted upon."

with files from Farrah Merali