Valentine’s Day protest supports and raises awareness of MMIWG2S

The small group of activists in Kingston showed support and solidarity with the annual February 14 Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver and hoped to bring awareness to RBC’s role in the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

On Valentine’s Day, most people think about the ones they love and try to honour them in some way. But love doesn’t end when a life is taken too soon by violence.

This is why a small group of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous allies took time to stand in solidarity in front of RBC Royal Bank of Canada at 65 Princess Street yesterday for a quiet protest honouring the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited people (MMIWG2S).

Lindsey Pilon, a mixed-ancestry Haudenosaunee woman of the Oneida Turtle Clan, was one of the organizers of the event, which was meant as a show of support and solidarity with the Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, held yearly on February 14 to honour the lives of missing and murdered women. The first Women’s Memorial March was held in 1992. 

Pilon said, “It’s my responsibility to amplify the messages that we’re getting from our relations across Turtle Island [North America]”: that Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and trans people disproportionately continue to go missing or be murdered, with minimal to no action to address these tragedies or their systemic nature.

The annual Vancouver event is organized and led by women because, according to the Memorial March website, “women – especially Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and trans people – face physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence on a daily basis. The February 14th Women’s Memorial March is an opportunity to come together to grieve the loss of our beloved sisters, remember the women who are still missing, and dedicate ourselves to justice. We gather each year to mourn and remember our sisters by listening to their family members, by taking over the streets, and through spiritual ceremonies.”

But why target RBC as a place of protest? Pilon explained that the bank is “one of the biggest funders of pipelines” and that the National Inquiry for MMIWG2S found “a correlation between violence against Indigenous people near worker camps for pipeline projects.”

A silent supporter stands with a red dress. Red dresses have become a symbol of MMIWG2S. Jaime Black, a Métis artist, launched The REDress Project in 2014. The installation art project involved collecting and hanging 600 red dresses symbolizing the hundreds of Indigenous women and girls whose lives were stolen. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

In fact, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women tabled its report “Responding to the Calls for Justice: Addressing Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls in the Context of Resource Development Projects” in Ottawa on December 14, 2022. They found “substantial evidence of a serious problem” linking the resource industry to violence against Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people across the country. The report detailed concerns regarding “man camps,” temporary villages built to house primarily male workers at the sites. “This increased rate of violence is largely the result of the migration into the camps of mostly non-Indigenous young men with high salaries and little to no stake in the host Indigenous community,” the study states.

Further, Pilon explained that RBC finances the Coastal GasLink along with other fossil fuel projects, which have a history of violating Indigenous rights; in total, RBC financed US$38.8 billion of fossil fuels last year, the fourth-highest of all financial institutions worldwide, according to reports.

“We are out [protesting] because it feels important to… be public and visible when our relations are doing the same thing across Canada. And so we’re at RBC because… we want people to know where the bank is using their funds.”

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