If Wikipedia is to be believed, the first Valentine’s Day celebration was held in the year 496, and it wasn’t until the 18th century that the day became an occasion for couples to show love for one another. So, it’s maybe safe to assume there have been many variations in how to acknowledge (or not acknowledge) February 14.
For the past couple of years, I’ve found it meaningful to attend the Women’s Memorial March. As I said in an earlier blog post from Argentina, I think there’s value in people coming together to show their support for a cause.
In tonight’s case, the cause was violence against women, and Indigenous women in particular. I’m grateful many of the people in my life are already aware of this issue, but in case it’s new for you, here are some stats to take note of: “Indigenous women are physically and sexually assaulted almost three times more often than non-Indigenous women in Canada. They are also experiencing domestic violence at higher rates and are roughly seven times more likely to be killed by a serial killer” (source: CBC, United Nations).
And while I’m at it, here are a few other numbers. It doesn’t take much to realize these figures are all connected in some way:
- Four of every five First Nations reserves have median incomes below the poverty line.
- Only 42% of on-reserve students graduate from high school.
- Indigenous youth only make up 8% of youth in Canada, but account for 46% of youth who are incarcerated.
- In western Canada, three Indigenous babies are apprehended by police and/or social services every day. First Nations kids across the country are 12 times more likely to be removed from their families.
- Life expectancy is lower for Indigenous people, and infant mortality is higher.
But back to tonight: The Memorial March kicked off with one of the organizers saying that if Valentine’s Day is about celebrating love, it’s worth remembering that every missing or murdered woman has filled someone’s heart. And while we think of these women, we should also take time to send love to their family and friends who are grieving tragic losses.
With these words in mind, we headed outside. People were given cut-outs and silhouettes of women to carry; my friend and I held a placard for Maggie Lee Burke. I looked up Maggie’s name when I got home. In the first couple pages of Google search results, there was only one media outlet that had published anything about her, and I was reminded again about the gap between topics that do and don’t receive media coverage. According to the limited information available, Maggie lived in Edmonton when she disappeared in 2004 at the age of 21. Another source mentioned her briefly in an article about a possible serial killer. More than a decade later, her family continues their search and plead for help in finding her.
On Valentine’s Day, I’d like to send them love. And on the Valentine’s Days to come, I hope even more people will consider attending the memorial march. After all: if you’re the kind of person who thinks cynically about Valentine’s Day, this event is a way of resisting the consumerist side of the holiday. And if you’re the kind of person who adores Valentine’s Day, the march offers up a chance to take a moonlit walk with your sweetheart, and still have plenty of time for a cozy dinner. Or: you can go home after the march and climb under a pile of blankets with your laptop, accompanied by a glass of wine and some delicious butter tarts made by your not-missing, not-murdered mother. (I might know something about this last scenario.)
Happy Valentine’s Day.
However you choose to spend it, know that you fill someone’s heart.