On a cluster of trees in a North Vancouver forest, visitors will find powerful succinct messages and striking visual reminders of Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirited.
The trees can be found in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve on the Baden Powell Trail just east of Lillooet Road. After walking about 90 metres, the trees can be seen within the forest on the north side, to the left of the trail.
A number of trees have had their cedar bark stripped and have various messages about MMIWG2S written on them. Red dresses have also been painted on the trees, representing the victims of violence taken far too soon over many years.
“Reform our brothers. Honour our sisters, mothers, daughters,” one message reads.
Written on another tree is, “support Indigenous men and choose not to use violence” and “90 per cent of female Indigenous victims knew their killers.”
Those who frequent the area may have spotted the trees before. The North Shore News could not confirm how long the messages have been there or who wrote them, but locals estimate they've been there for about nine months.
North Vancouver resident Matt Orde was on a trail run with a friend when he came across the trees for the first time last week. His friend and fellow local, John Garratt, had known about the trees and pointed them out to him.
“It's quite an interesting spiritual type of experience, really,” Orde said, of viewing the trees. “We took photographs and it left a deep imprint on the mind.”
He said reading the messages was a moving experience and left him feeling “quite emotional.”
“It was quite a haunting experience given the recent news, the dreadful news coming out of Kamloops,” he said. “It brings alarm … people are dying, and people are experiencing bad outcomes in life in extraordinarily high numbers. There's a lot of sadness in life and it's an interesting way of marking, unfortunately, people's deaths and absences and people having gone missing. We certainly know it's awfully common, certainly in B.C.”
According to Statistics Canada, despite only making up four per cent of the Canadian population, Indigenous women and girls represented 28 per cent of homicides perpetrated against women in 2019, and are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than non-Indigenous women in Canada.
Out running the trails of #NorthVan this morning with @CPQA_AQCP, and came across a collection of stripped cedar trees, each bearing a succinct but powerful message referring to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. A moving sight. pic.twitter.com/2N6JHdkTBq— Matt Orde (@CanadianForMed) June 1, 2021
MMIWG messages on North Vancouver trees a timely reminder
Orde came across the trees in the forest, coincidentally, in the same week as the second anniversary of the release of the Reclaiming Power and Place, the final report by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, on June 3.
The final report, released back in 2019, made 231 recommendations and calls for “transformative legal and social changes to resolve the crisis that has devastated Indigenous communities across the country.”
It includes the truths of more than 2,380 family members of MMIWG2S, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers.
On the historic day, contributing partners from across Canada came together to release the National Action Plan to end the ongoing tragedy. The NAP, which was expected last year, was delayed by the federal government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Two years ago, today (June 3), the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls presented its final report, confirming a heartbreaking reality: for generations, Canada has failed Indigenous peoples,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
“As part of our federal contribution to the National Action Plan, the Federal Pathway, we will work closely with families and survivors, grassroots organizations, and Indigenous leaders on the implementation of a comprehensive and holistic approach to end the systemic racism, sexism, ableism, and economic inequality that has perpetuated violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit and LGBTQ people.”
Trudeau said the Federal Pathway would focus on four themes: culture; health and wellness; human security and safety; and justice, and would be supported by investments of $2.2 billion over five years, and $160.9 million ongoing.
Trudeau commended all those who have taken part in the NAP’s development, especially the families and survivors “whose courage has formed the core of this deeply important work.”
'This so-called action plan is another slap in the face'
However, Indigenous B.C. leaders and groups believe the plan “falls painfully short.”
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs says it is appalled by the lack of a plan within the document and is calling for the development of an Indigenous women-led Action Plan with clear timelines, commitments and actions that encompass all levels of government across Canada to “end genocide now.”
“I look at this Action Plan and I see more sickness, more loss, and more suffering – I do not see change,” UBCIC president Grand Chief Stewart Philip, of the Penticton Indian Band, said in a statement.
“I do not see our women and children represented in its pages, nor do I see a government that understands what it is like for our communities to lose a matriarch, or to mourn the loss of a stolen child."
He said the document was "the result of a government that has minimized the magnitude of the ongoing genocide of our sisters, aunties, daughters, mothers, and granddaughters."
“Canada is responsible for this genocide – and is responsible for changing it – now,” Philip said.
Kukpi7, Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the UBCIC and Chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band, said the "so-called action plan is another slap in the face."
“How many more of our people need to die?" she questioned. "We demand accountability, immediate action, adequate resources, and the development of an Indigenous women-led action and implementation plan now."
Leaders of the First Nations Summit also have apprehensions regarding the plan and its timeframes.
“We continue to ask ourselves, how many Indigenous women and girls have, and will continue, to fall victim because of the glacial pace and inaction of governments,” said Cheryl Casimer of the FNS Political Executive.
Meanwhile, British Columbia is also posting its own response to MMIWG2S, A Path Forward: Priorities and Early Strategies for B.C. The Path Forward reflects community-based priorities, informed by Indigenous-led community dialogue sessions in 2019 and 2021, and sets a solid foundation with early strategies to ending violence, according to the province.
The province is making an initial investment of up to $5.5 million in 2021-22 into a community fund accessible to First Nations, off-reserve, Métis and 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities to support capacity to develop safety plans, training and education resources and for the commemoration and honouring of victims and their family members.
Support line for those impacted by missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people
For immediate emotional assistance, call 1-844-413-6649. You can also access long-term health support services such as mental health counselling, community-based emotional support and cultural services.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.