Alongside other sites across the country, local residents will mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Dec. 6.
“We invite everybody to come out and participate,” said Peggy Loyie, the aboriginal healing and wellness co-ordinator for the United Native Friendship Centre here.
This year’s ceremony, slated to start at 2 p.m. at Knox United Church, has been organized by a partnership between the UNFC, Northwestern Health Unit, Sunset Country Métis, and health access centre.
The day was first established by Parliament in 1991 following what has become known as “the Montreal Massacre” when, on Dec. 6, 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lepine entered l’Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal armed with a semi-automatic rifle and hunting knife.
Lepine proceeded to shoot at students, specifically separating out females as his targets. Before ultimately turning the gun on himself, Lepine had shot 28 people, killing 14 women.
In the suicide notes that were found later, Lepine wrote that feminists were to blame for ruining his life, and he had made a list of 19 Quebec women he considered to be feminists and wanted to kill.
“Sadly, it took that tragedy to bring the whole issue of violence against women to a national focus,” Loyie said. “It took that tragedy, that awful event.”
While the annual ceremony is meant to mark the anniversary of the “Montreal Massacre,” Loyie stressed it’s also about recognizing the number of local women who have been victims of violence and abuse.
“We certainly honour those women who died in Montreal, but we also honour the women who we know in our community,” she said. “It’s sad, but in our own corner of the world, tucked up here in Northwestern Ontario, there is a number of women who we know who have died violently.”
At last year’s ceremony, Lily Barker, a Confederation College student in a program with the health unit, had put together a slide show of the women from the Fort Frances area who had been violently killed.
“And these were just women who we knew in our area, who we know,” noted Loyie, “After the ceremony, at the end we had people say, ‘Oh, you should include so-and-so’ or ‘Oh, you should include so-and-so.’
“And so it’s just indescribable to know that there’s that many women in our area that people know who have died violently, in gender-based violence. It’s really sad.”
This year, the slide show will be used again—this time with more names of women who have lost their lives.
“It’s a pretty powerful slide show, especially when you go through it and think ‘I’ve crossed paths with every one of those people in my life,’” Loyie said.
“I think it’s important, it’s important that we remember that we take notice of what’s happening in our own little piece of the world,” she added, noting that often the focus is on larger urban centres and the violence there.
“But when you look at this [slide show], these are all women from Fort Frances, every one of them.”
Part of the problem is people’s own definition of abuse, which often is confined to “bruises” and other obvious physical hurts, said Loyie, but leaves out such things as emotional and verbal abuse that “chips away at the spirit.”
But everyone has the responsibility to take actions to stop violence against women, she stressed, and teaching children about being responsible in their relationships with each other.
“I guess part of what we want to do through this is we can no longer just turn our heads and say ‘it’s not happening in my house, it doesn’t affect me,’” said Loyie. “It affects all of us.”
Information that’s also being brought in for Saturday’s ceremony here is that from the “Sisters in Spirit” campaign, noted Loyie, “that speaks to the number of missing aboriginal women across the country.”
“These missing women are something that . . . you don’t hear about it, you don’t read about it,” she remarked. “They’re missing, their families are looking for them, and it’s not something that there’s a lot of publicity about.”