VANCOUVER (CityNews) — A Cree woman who was living on the streets several years ago says Vancouver’s annual Women’s Memorial March turned her life around and she can now help other families heal.
Several years ago, Jamie Smallboy was a missing Indigenous woman herself when she was living on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside struggling with addiction and losing touch with her culture.
But one day in 2011, the sound from the Women’s Memorial March honouring murdered and missing Indigenous women saved her life.
“I was really hungover in an alley. I heard drumming, I sat up and thought I was hearing things,” she explains. “I turned the corner and there was just a sea of Indigenous women singing and drumming and praying. I felt overwhelmed with emotion. I didn’t know that existed. I didn’t know as an Indigenous people we’re allowed to feel like that.”
She tells CityNews hearing those drums was the moment she vowed to turn her life around.
“It reminded me that I grew up with ceremony, that I grew up with culture,” she says. “And all of that was so dormant for so long in my life. But that march revitalized that in me. Since that day it started me on a healing journey, reconnecting with myself and with my culture.”
Years later, Smallboy founded a group called Red Sisters Gathering with the purpose of sewing and giving away red ribbon skirts to the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women at the annual marches.
“The colour red is believed by our nation to be the only colour our spirit recognizes. So the hope was that by gifting the skirts to the families the victims that have passed on will see the parade of red, and they’ll come and join us the march.”
Every year, the annual Women’s Memorial March takes place on Feb. 14 and begins at Main and Hastings. For many in the community, it’s an opportunity to come together and grieve the loss of friends and family members and also to remember the women who are still missing.
“It’s an ongoing genocide that’s happening in Canada. We’re invisible. Indigenous people are invisible to the majority of society,” Smallboy says.
Thinking back to her days living on the streets Smallboy says there are many things she would tell her younger self.
“I don’t need to try to fit into settler society. I was born to this land, we belong to this land, we’re connected to this land. And I would tell myself stop trying to fit into a society that you don’t belong to.”