By Barb Nahwegahbow Windspeaker Contributor TORONTO
About 500 people attended the Feb. 14 Strawberry Ceremony held in Toronto to honour the more than 600 Aboriginal women who are missing or have died violent deaths, and to seek justice for the women with calls for a national inquiry.
UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, James Anaya, who toured Canada last year, said the federal government should set up a national inquiry into the “disturbing phenomenon” of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The Harper government has so far not heeded the call.
It was the ninth year for the ceremony, which took place in front of Toronto Police Headquarters on College Street. Signs with photographs and names of the women printed on them were a bleak reminder of the vulnerability of Aboriginal women.
“We’re here in love, not anger,” said Elder Wanda Whitebird to those gathered, as strawberries and water, the women’s medicines, were given out.
For 63-year-old Joyce Carpenter, the ceremony marked the first time she spoke in public since the death of her 14-year-old daughter Trish 21 years ago. Her daughter’s body was found on a construction site, stuffed headfirst into a hole where she died of asphyxiation. Holding up a picture of her daughter, Carpenter said, “She had just given birth to a beautiful little boy, now 22, and was only with his mother for six weeks.”
A coroner’s inquest ruled her daughter’s death an accident.
Carpenter doesn’t accept this. The system, “…just wrote her off,” she said. If there had been a proper investigation, Carpenter said, they would have ruled the death a homicide.
It was the violent and suspicious deaths of three young Aboriginal women in Toronto within the space of three months last year that prompted Carpenter to share her story.