Hundreds gather in Montreal for Valentine’s Day MMIWG vigil

More than 200 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been murdered in Quebec, says researcher

Throat singer Sierra Segalowitz performs “The Love Song” with her mother, Nina Segalowitz, Tuesday in front of a crowd of people in commemoration of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Montreal. (Photo by Cedric Gallant, special to Nunatsiaq News)

By Cedric Gallant
Special to Nunatsiaq News

The sweet smell of sage and the sounds of traditional singers and drummers filled Montreal’s busy Saint-Catherine Street Tuesday evening as hundreds of people gathered to march in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau, a researcher and co-ordinator for the city’s Iskweu project, told the crowd she has personal reasons for organizing the annual vigil.

“When I asked for my mom’s coroner’s report,” she said, “The first phrase on it was, ‘The client is obese and unclean.’ Well, that was my mom, and she was the best.”

Qavavauq-Bibeau had a hard time finishing her speech, as emotions took over her words.

The Montreal woman, who has family in Arctic Bay, Iqaluit and Pond Inlet, is creating a database for all of Quebec’s missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

Finding all the names was a herculean task, she said.

Qavavauq-Bibeau dug into really old news articles and found cases involving Indigenous women who were murdered but did not appear on the internet. Information she learned in those articles led her to other murders that were undocumented.

She offers the example of a 2017 Nunavik murder case, where the killer mentioned that his own mom had been murdered in 2014.

“I tried to find information on the mother,” Qavavauq-Bibeau said. “I couldn’t find anything, not a name, nothing.”

She said she eventually found out through people in the community that the woman’s name was Sarah.

Qavavauq-Bibeau said the RCMP originally registered 46 cases in all of Quebec’s history.

“This country was built on genocide, so that did not make sense to me,” she said. “I owe them my database, over 200 names. That is four times higher than what RCMP estimated.”

To exemplify the sheer number of people’s stories she has found, Qavavauq-Bibeau looked to the crowd and said, “Imagine if all of us were murdered here tonight, just because we are Indigenous.”

She said the media plays a crucial role in the archival process of documenting these cases and making them known publicly.

“In 2020, there were three women that were murdered in Nunavik,” she said.

“There was only one article that talked about all three at the same time.”

She used the famous case of Cédrika Provencher in Quebec to emphasize her point. Provencher, who was non-Indigenous, went missing in 2007 from her hometown of Trois-Rivières. She was nine years old.

Her disappearance sparked one of the biggest police searches in Quebec’s history. Provencher’s name stayed in the media over the next seven years, and more than $100,000 was contributed toward a reward to help solve the case.

Her remains were found in 2015, near Trois-Rivières.

When it comes to Indigenous women, Qavavauq-Bibeau said, “We talk about it a bit, quick news story at six, and we forget about it.”

In partnership with Quebec Native Women Inc. and the University du Québec en Outaouais in Gatineau, Que., Qavavauq-Bibeau’s database will eventually become a full report.

Its data will also populate an interactive map where people can visit each community and see who is missing or murdered in each location.

Na’kuset, executive director at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, said these issues in Montreal are tightly wound with the Inuit experience in the city.

Inuit make up more than 60 per cent of the people who use the services her organization provides.

“The systemic racism that Indigenous people face is a real barrier for them when it comes to getting housing, getting services and work,” she said.

As the march came to a close, Inuk throat singer Nina Segalowitz asked the crowd to perform an exercise.

She ordered all women to gather close to her, in a circle, and all men to surround the women as a crescent.

“As women, we support each other,” Segalowitz said.

“We grieve with each other every time we lose a woman. In this circle, we have strong women standing for the women that cannot be here. And I want you to remember how safe it feels to be in this circle with the men around us.”


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