Today, for Mothers Day, I took part in the Women's Memorial March to honour and remember missing and murdered (Aboriginal) women.
It was a profound experience, walking from the St. Regis Hotel (downtown) to the Forks Market, behind a group of Aboriginal drum singers. There were hundreds of us, and we marched into the streets, while holding or wearing butterfly-shaped signs with a missing or murdered woman's name and picture on it. We took over Winnipeg's centre, if only for a minute, to make sure these women are not forgotten.
When I arrived at the St. Regis Hotel parking lot at ten to one, I was handed a purple cardboard butterfly with the name and picture of Tianne Bell on it. In pen, scrawled under Bell's image, was the word located. -- At first I was a little confused as to why I would be carrying Bell's butterfly since she was no longer missing, but then I realized that in a sea of butterflies with lost souls, Bell had been found and therefore represented a small victory for this cause.
As I walked around the parking lot before the march got underway, I saw a woman on a bike wearing a blue butterfly with the name Carla Caldwell on it. My heart sank; that name was a familiar one of a girl that had become embroidered into my childhood. Caldwell, a 13-year old girl who was killed along with her little brother Jamie in 1991 by their father Carl, was a kid I grew up with. We went to school and Brownies together, and until her murder, she was just another one of us, who lived in the Doncaster subsidized housing development.
It was stunning, after all these years, to see her name laid out in front of me. Those haunted moments of my childhood, where many of us lost trust in our own parents and our young minds struggled to understand how and why her own father could murder her, came flooding back to me. It was sobering, yet comforting to see that Carla's memory was still etched in the minds of people who'd probably never met her before.
At that moment this walk became more personal to me, as I was no longer an oblivious stranger who was walking for people I had never met. At that moment, I too understood what it felt like to know that horrifying moment of violence and loss.
To the chant of the Aboriginal drummers, a procession of us marched down Portage Avenue, and then Main Street. People in their cars and on the sidewalks watched and listened, some raising their arms or honking their horns as a sign of solidarity, as we paid respect to the lost sisters. Some of the onlookers seemed interested or curious, while others simply looked oblivious or annoyed at being tied up in traffic on the sunny Sunday afternoon.
In the helplessness of losing a loved one, family members and friends of the missing and murdered women did the only thing they could do; never let them be forgotten.
When we made it to the Forks, we sat around the Odeena Circle behind the Johnston Terminal. We placed the butterflies around the circle, and listened to speakers and performers pay tribute to these women and this cause. Some family members of the victims spoke, offering insight into what it's like to live knowing that their mother, sister, daughter, niece, friend is lost.
The day wrapped up with a promise of more marches, and a commitment to continue the efforts to bring the lost sisters home. Organizers collected the cardboard butterflies, putting them back into rubber crates until next time, and marchers dispersed into the Forks.
Today is Mothers Day, and even if the lost mothers, or the lost girls that might have been mothers couldn't be with the ones they love, we made sure to celebrate them.