'We can't bring them back': March in Edmonton honours missing and murdered Indigenous women

A sombre gathering to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls redefined the meaning of Valentine's Day Thursday evening in downtown Edmonton.

Annual march in Edmonton started in 2006

A contingency of women from Driftpile Cree Nation in northern Alberta drove five hours to remember Agnes Rose Chalifoux at the Edmonton march. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

A sombre gathering to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls redefined the meaning of Valentine's Day Thursday evening in downtown Edmonton.

Dozens of people gathered in Edmonton City Hall, holding pictures and signs declaring love and respect for women and girls snatched away from families across the country.

People from all over the province came to the march, including a group of women from Driftpile Cree Nation in northern Alberta who drove five hours to remember Agnes Rose Chalifoux.

Leanne McGilvery made the trip from Calgary to remember her best friend Lindsay Jackson.

"I really want to get justice for her," said McGilvery. "I want to be an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women."

Jackson, 25, was murdered last fall. The Saddle Lake woman was reported missing on Sept. 22, and her body was pulled out of the North Saskatchewan River two weeks later near Duvernay, about 150 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

Two men and one woman have been charged in Jackson's death.

McGilvery said it's important to hold the memorials each year because more women are being murdered.

"It seems the women it's happening to are getting younger and younger," she said.

Donald Brookwell, right, spoke at the march about his mother, Agnes Joan Mountain, who died when he was a child. His brother, Joseph Hamelin, left, sang a traditional song in her honour. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

Jackson is among more than 1,200 Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or were victims of murder since 1946 in Canada.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls said that number is a low estimate, because police reporting on race and what defines a missing person varies across the country.

Many memorial marches took place across Canada Thursday with families of women likely not included in the overall database of missing or murdered Indigenous women.

Danielle Boudreau started the annual Edmonton march in 2006. She said she hopes the emphasis society puts on love and empathy on Valentine's Day will move people to be more compassionate toward the treatment of women from all walks of life.

"Over the years I've lost quite a few friends to violence," Boudreau said Thursday. "People are dying and we can't bring those women back."

The march is also meant to include the LGBTQ and two-spirited community, as well as men who have lost their lives to violence, Boudreau says.

"Domestic violence is huge. Anybody vulnerable can be a victim," Boudreau said.

'An ongoing national tragedy'

Government of Canada numbers from 2014 show that Indigenous women accounted for 21 per cent of female homicide victims in the country. That makes them six times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women.

Premier Rachel Notley released a statement Thursday saying the province is committed to ending violence against Indigenous women. 

"These women and girls were cherished daughters, sisters, mothers and friends. Their loss is an ongoing national tragedy," the statement said.

"We vow to do right by them. We renew the call for justice and action. And we commit to building a province in which Indigenous women and girls feel safe and valued."

About the Author

Tanara McLean is a producer and journalist at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.

With files from Andrea Huncar