Content warning: This article discusses death, anti-Indigenous racism, and racist and sexist violence.
On February 14, more than 500 people gathered in front of the Toronto Police Services (TPS) headquarters to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada. U of T’s First Nation’s House organized a walk from their location at 563 Spadina Ave to the event’s location at TPS headquarters at 40 College St.
According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Indigenous women experience disproportionate rates of violence and sexual assault as a result of racism and colonialism.
Statistics Canada reported that from 2015–2020, the rate of Indigenous victim homicides was six times higher than the rate of homicides involving non-Indigenous victims. However, the Native Women’s Association notes that community-led research tends to find higher violence rates than those reported by the government.
No More Silence, a community-led initiative honouring the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and two-spirit people, organized the February 14 event. The group, cofounded by documentarian Audrey Huntley, collects the stories of murdered women and aims to build community-led alternatives to the police.
Many people held signs displaying the names of women who had been killed, including Rebecca Contois, Marcedes Myran, Morgan Harris, Doreen Leclair, and Patricia Carpenter. Volunteers offered to smudge participants and handed out cups of water and strawberries.
Mi’kmaw Elder Wanda Whitebird led most of the ceremony. She highlighted that the ceremony’s symbol, the strawberry, arose from the Ojibwe word for strawberry — “ode’min.” “Ode” means “heart” in Ojibwe. Whitebird explained that many Indigenous cultures view strawberries as a woman’s medicine. Additionally, strawberries represent the transition period of a person’s growth from a young girl into a woman.
Organizers held the event outside of TPS headquarters to protest what Huntley described as “the state’s complicity” in the murders. “We’re at police headquarters not only because of their inaction, but because sometimes they are perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women, girls, trans, two-spirited and people in general,” Huntley told CBC News.
Whitebird highlighted the importance of this year’s Strawberry Ceremony, which follows the 2022 murders of four Indigenous women in Winnipeg. In December, the Winnipeg police service arrested Jeremy Skibicki for the murders of Contois, Harris, Myran and a fourth unidentified victim currently known as Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.
Police concluded that Harris and Myran’s remains are likely within the Prairie Green landfill, located north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Despite pressure from the community and advocates, police refused to search the landfill for these remains because searchers would “have no starting point,” according to the Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth
After an hour in front of TPS headquarters, the attendees walked to Yonge and College. Organizers occupied the intersection, singing and dancing.