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Survival, Strength, Sisterhood: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside

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    20 years ago, I was here
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    and easily any one of those
    women could have been me
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    and it's just by luck and not design
    that I'm here and I have my children.
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    And it was because of women in
    the community who looked out for me
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    and helped keep me safe
    in a really hard time.
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    And so, I march now,
    cause some of them are gone
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    and because taking up space
    and holding our presence here is so important.
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    Tiffany Drew
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    Angela Jardine
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    Tanya Holyk
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    Sherry Irving
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    Inga Hall
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    Diana Melnick
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    Debra Jones
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    Wendy Crawford
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    Andrea Borhaven
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    Cara Ellis
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    Carrie Kosky
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    Dorothy Spence
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    We acknowledge this film was made on the traditional territories of the Coast Salish People.
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    The Burrard, the Musqueam, the Tsleil-Waututh
    and the Sḵwxwú7mesh.
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    My name is Janet Pete, and I've lived here in
    the Downtown Eastside off and on for 40 years.
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    I feel like I've been here a long time.
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    I've lived down in the Downtown Eastside
    for very many years.
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    It's probably one of the most
    honest places in the world
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    and a lot of people have
    a really hard time with that.
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    My friends here are like my family.
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    And one important aspect I found out
    is that you'll never starve down here.
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    Downtown Eastside is accepting, and the
    Downtown Eastside is home to a huge cross-section
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    of diversified people
    with diversified interests.
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    And, um, I've never been afraid
    of the Downtown Eastside.
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    When I first got down here I was very lost
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    and today I can honestly say
    with being part of this community that
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    I have a lot of support like family,
    through my sisters' love and support.
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    I have had an opportunity
    to go back to school,
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    which I mean I would have never had
    an opportunity to do had I not lived here.
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    and I've made great friends and, um, I expect that I'll
    probably have the Downtown Eastside as my home
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    for the rest of my life.
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    It's like I belong here, you know,
    and, uh, I fit right in, you know?
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    And, uh, I do a lot of work there
    you know with the Power of Women
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    and marching and you know
    and things like that.
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    This film is not another alley diary.
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    This film presumes no happy endings.
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    Last year, during the 2010 winter olympics
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    over 5 thousand people marched to honour
    women who have died as a result of violence
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    or who have gone missing
    in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
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    <\VOICEOVER> Since its beginnings 20 years ago
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    the Women's Memorial March has become the
    longest running march in recent Canadian history.
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    The March began in 1991 when a woman
    was found murdered on Powell Street.
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    I recall Phillippa Ryan,
    who passed away last year,
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    telling us how the first few years
    of the march brought out only a handful of women.
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    The women marching had objects
    thrown at them from passing cars.
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    Women began disappearing from Vancouver's
    Downtown Eastside as early as the 1970's.
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    But community members raising the alarm
    were ignored by the police and officials.
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    Hart-Bellecourt and Lisa Muswagon-- please clarify>
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    Undeterred, women in the neighbourhood
    organized persistently.
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    The issue has now started to receive
    international attention
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    with the release of Amnesty International human rights
    reports and condemnations of Canada at the United
    Nations
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    My Indian name is Shining Eagle Woman
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    and we seen eagles up there
    and those are our ancestors
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    and our sisters letting us know, they know what
    we're doing down here for them in this world.
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    <\VOICEOVER> The Memorial March is planned by the
    Annual February 14th Women's Memorial March C'tte.
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    The March follows a similar pattern each year
    as described by Marlene George:
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    We gather in a circle
    usually at Main and Hastings
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    Often there's a prayer
    said at that time,
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    and then, um, we'll start
    with the elders lining up
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    or the family members
    followed by the elders
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    then when we stop at, um, the hotel sites or the places,
    the alleys where women were murdered or last seen,
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    our elders will go over and do
    a smudge ceremony at the site,
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    and leave either a red rose for murdered women
    or a yellow rose for the missing women.
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    The memorial banner it's
    96 pounds of 18x20 inches,
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    and that was created by women
    and men in the community.
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    <\VOICEOVER> Christianne created the design for
    the Women's Memorial March.
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    I was thinking, how can we get a design
    that would combine the colours of the march
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    the purple and yellow
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    but it's valentine's day so of course
    the ribbon heart came very easily
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    When you walk, uh, along this street here,
    you walk into, uh, the money district,
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    within like three blocks,
    so its very surreal,
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    when you walk through the streets here and then find
    that this is a place where women can just go missing.
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    And nobody pays any attention.
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    So this particular neighbourhood, area, is where
    a woman was thrown from the window, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
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    out of there, yeah it
    was the 5th floor
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    and, uh, and this spot will be something, a place
    that will be added to the Memorial March this year.
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    I think it's of particular
    significance this year
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    because of the inquiry
    into the missing women,
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    and that the report from the vancouver police which stated
    that they were taking some responsibility
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    for what happened; and yet as we've continued
    to see women, uh, being killed
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    you also see that the death of this woman
    inspired the community to come together,
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    and that we saw hundreds and hundreds of people from this
    community gather and honour this particular young woman,
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    Ashley [Machiskinic].
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    <\VOICEOVER>The tragedy of missing and
    murdered women is paralleled across the country,
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    and memorial marches in honour of
    the women are held in various cities.
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    Family members and activists have
    organized a walk for justice
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    to press the federal government for an inquiry
    into missing women along Highway 16,
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    now called the Highway of Tears.
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    In the past decade, there have been a number
    of high profile convictions,
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    including of former provincial
    court judge David William Ramsey,
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    and serial killer Robert Pickton.
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    I think the systemic violence against women
    is not an anomaly.
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    It's not a phenomena that one man
    has done this horrific thing.
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    I think it is, um, a result of the systemic, um, attitude towards poor women.
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    We also march for the women
    that have died of other causes like, um,
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    some women die from
    being homeless on the street.
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    Some people, or women die from overdoses.
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    Some women die from not having access
    to proper medical care.
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    Numerous of women have been missing.
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    And the years that I have been down here
    and seen these women go missing
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    hurt me so I'm here to be a support
    of all the working girls,
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    the families, and watch over the kids.
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    Sandra Amos George
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    Ramona Lisa Marie Wilson
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    Peggy Snow
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    Nellie Spence
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    Marilyn Moore
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    Rose Peters
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    Sarah deVries
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    Lisa Francis
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    Connie Rider
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    <\VOICEOVER> Who are the missing and murdered
    women whose names we invoke?
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    Describe myself? A very strong woman
    that doesn't take a whole lot of shit.
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    I was a very active heroin user,
    every kind of drug user,
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    um, for about 27 years,
    28 years, um, yeah.
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    Then I got clean and sober, because, I don't
    know why I got clean and sober, I just did.
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    I mean, it, I, you know, I was 44 when
    I cleaned up, when I got clean and sober.
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    So it's certainly not um, i don't expect it, I absolutely
    don't expect them to get clean and sober.
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    But I don't expect workers
    to tell me that they can't.
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    A lot of the missing women, um, I actually
    did jail time with, actually did drugs with.
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    I think that's one of the things that um
    separates me from a lot of the workers,
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    is because I'm one of the women.
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    All the Downtown Eastside women
    are lumped into one,
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    but they're women, they're absolutely living, breathing
    women that each have an individual character.
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    Um, but, you know, we're talking about dead,
    definitely murdered women,
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    and we should definitely
    put that one day.
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    But you know what, we have over 300 other days
    to think about the women that are still living,
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    think about the women that are still
    homeless, and living in poverty.
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    Stretch
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    skin
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    hold
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    blood
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    lay
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    land
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    learn
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    shame
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    taught to pray
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    wake
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    broke
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    choke
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    bruise
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    taste
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    white boy
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    spit
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    pull
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    pay.
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    Jacqueline McDonell
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    Dianne Rock
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    Heather Bottomley
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    Andrea Josebury
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    Jennifer Furminger
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    Helen Hallmark
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    Georgina Papin
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    Heather Chinnock
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    <\VOICEOVER> The only way to understand the heinous
    violence committed against missing and murdered women
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    is to understand the lives and the struggles of those
    women who continue to survive in this neighbourhood
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    under the same circumstances every day.
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    the issues are that are really harsh are addictions
    and homelessness are the number one issues outside my door.
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    I am a volunteer and a survivor
    of abuse when I was a child,
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    And what I can see is that there is
    a higher concentration of mentally ill persons
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    who live on the Downtown Eastside.
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    I have many friends that are
    living with HIV, AIDS, Hep C.
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    I've been clean for a year since February,
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    and I am trying to quit smoking
    this year I'm trying but, I don't know.
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    I've been a survivor of
    the residential school,
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    and they've silenced me
    while I was in school,
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    but since I've been with the Power of Women
    I've broken the silence.
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    I protest for housing, violence against women,
    police brutality, apprehension of our children.
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    I currently have some issues with the Ministry
    of Children and Family Development
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    concerning housing issues, and that turned
    into a whole bunch of other issues.
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    I've been in the Downtown
    Eastside since 1996,
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    and, uh, to me it is the family oriented district
    in Vancouver to the lonely and the homeless.
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    <\VOICEOVER>The Downtown Eastside is one of
    the oldest neighbourhoods in the heart of Vancouver.
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    It includes Chinatown, where several
    thousand Chinese seniors reside.
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    As well as the Oppenheimer district, which was
    home for many Japanese Canadians
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    prior to their internment
    during World War Two.
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    Cynthia Low talks about the historic significance of this
    community as a cultural meeting place.
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    And as early as the 50s 60s and 70s there was really
    only certain spaces that were allowed to Chinese people.
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    The values and the politics that was
    established in those days have carried on
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    and become sort of a meeting place, um, for Chinese
    seniors and Aboriginal people to I think to be allies.
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    <\VOICEOVER>Today, Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is
    known as the poorest off-reserve postal code in Canada.
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    Approximately 16,000 people reside within
    these 2 square miles.
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    Unfortunately, it's becoming less and less
    of a choice that fits one's pocketbook.
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    The land, everything down here
    is extremely overpriced
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    and the developers have been
    allowed to get away with it.
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    <\VOICEOVER> Lack of safe and affordable
    housing is one of the primary issues,
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    with average rentals under 100 square feet,
    with no bathrooms, and no kitchens.
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    The neighbourhood is also home to an open
    drug trade and a visible survival sex trade.
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    One third of sex workers say they
    have survived an attack on their life.
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    Of the 4,000 intravenous drug users
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    90% are infected with Hepatitis C,
    and 30% with HIV.
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    You know, if you look at the alcoholism
    and the drugism and all that right,
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    but once you get past all that, there are
    actually beautiful people down here, you know?
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    But there's so much stigma
    and judgement on people,
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    and it's really sad because
    you know we're all human beings.
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    And not everybody down here is
    a drug addict or an alcoholic.
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    You know, people have problems here, and
    people outside this area they have problems too,
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    and they deal with it in
    their own fashionable way.
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    If you look at the ripple effects
    of the residential school
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    and just how it isolates us
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    It isolates me from my own body.
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    It isolates me from my
    own identity from who I am.
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    It, um, it's almost like ripping your
    skin off of you and you know
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    you kind of live in disassociation for years.
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    Every, all the struggles that our people
    are going through right now
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    this is where everybody ends.
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    <\VOICEOVER>Despite being overly researched
    and deeply pathologized,
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    the Downtown Eastside remains invisible
    to most of our society.
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    Is there one thing that you think people don't know about
    the Downtown Eastside that they should know?
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    Yeah, that everyone's got a story, you know,
    everyone's got an angle.
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    <"And I Cry" performed by Dalannah Gail
    Bowen> People living in misery.
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    People lost and alone.
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    I'm just trying to get by.
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    I ain't got a home
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    and I cry
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    and i cry
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    and i cry
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    and i cry
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    There's blood in the alleys,
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    blood in my breath
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    Theres the blood of my sisters
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    and no one asks why
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    For women in the Downtown Eastside
    who are Aboriginal or Chinese, um,
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    you know, working or poor,
    lack of access to education, um,
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    having had a lot of
    crisis in their lives
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    or not having had the opportunity
    to reach their potential,
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    I think all the barriers
    add to their marginalization.
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    The fact that they're poor women is huge, um, I
    think is probably the biggest systemic discrimination
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    that they encounter.
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    There are barriers that we put as a society,
    place in front of people.
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    There isn't a day that goes by that i don't see
    a woman being handcuffed and taken somewhere.
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    So now we're talking about the police officers
    getting involved with "violence against women".
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    You have to really look at it
    with a different angle now.
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    We're talking about men
    and violence against women.
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    Has anyone really talked about
    the police officer being the men?
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    Giving them the suit to wear,
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    guns, tazers, the power
    to misuse the power?
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    Why doesn't anybody ever
    question that fact?
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    <\VOICEOVER> The disturbing reality is that
    nothing we are seeing < OR SAYING?>today
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    will come as a surprise.
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    Rachael Davis
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    Serena Abotsway
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    Tamara Chipman
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    Fern Charlie
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    Mona Wilson
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    Nancy Clark
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    Cara Ellis
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    Patricia Johnson
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    Marnie Frey
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    I just want to set a challenge to the
    politicians, lawyers, the physicians,
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    the people in authority
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    to take an oath to protect the children
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    to protect our family here on earth.
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    In the words of Audre Lorde:
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    "If i didn't define myself for myself
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    I would be crunched into other
    peoples' fantasies for me
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    and eaten alive".
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    Um, I was a part of this community, like,
    I lost myself in this community,
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    but I eventually found myself down here.
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    My one suggestion to you people
    is to get rid of that attitude
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    Get rid of that belief,
    come down here, socialize,
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    phone me, feel free to call me.
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    I'm willing to take you out and about
    and go for coffee and do whatever.
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    <\VOICEOVER> Those of us who come to
    support this space with the best of intentions
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    soon realize we are the ones being taught.
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    But it can happen, and you want to be,
    you want to do something,
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    and then you discover that it's
    actually already being done,
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    that people are already, um, involved in
    their own way of expressing justice for women.
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    <\VOICEOVER> In the middle of daily protests, grit,
    grime, and sensationalist media headlines,
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    is an extremely vibrant community
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    Hello, hello,
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    I do volunteer work, and help people out,
    and help some senior old people out.
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    I'm First Nations Aboriginal, Italian,
    I'm Chinese, I'm East Indian,
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    and I would like to change
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    the point of view that the outside world
    has looking in on the Downtown Eastside.
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    I help a lot of street kids, which is
    one of my favourite things to do.
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    The most important thing I feel really blessed
    to belong to is the Power of Women Group.
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    It's a group of women that have
    come together from all walks of life,
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    um, and they've undergone
    their own, um, journey.
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    Um, I am a, I am a mom.
    I'm unfortunately not a grandma yet.
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    I am a resident of the Downtown
    Eastside and very proud of it.
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    Myself and Harsha's group the Power to
    Women Group, try to deal with many issues
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    of the Downtown Eastside.
  • 29:51 - 29:56
    And I enjoy it so much, I wouldn't want to be,
    um, a resident anywhere else.
  • 29:56 - 30:03
    And the quality that I love and I
    hope never disappears, is solidarity.
  • 30:04 - 30:10
    Together we all make up the Downtown Eastside
    and I'm proud to be part of the hood. Peace out!
  • 30:10 - 30:12
  • 30:22 - 30:31
    <\VOICEOVER> This film is a tribute to the resilience
    and the generosity of women in the Downtown Eastside.
  • 30:31 - 30:41
    These women daily survive conditions that few of us
    could imagine, let alone endure.
  • 30:44 - 30:50
    Women all around the world
    are suffering. It has to stop.
  • 30:56 - 30:59
    <\VOICEOVER>To women in the Downtown Eastside:
  • 30:59 - 31:04
    With every heartbeat you carry dignity
  • 31:04 - 31:09
    In every breath we see your humanity.
  • 31:09 - 31:14
    With every step we join you
  • 31:14 - 31:18
    so you may walk free of violence and injustice.
  • 31:42 - 31:45
    I sing this song,
  • 31:45 - 31:51
    and all of those who have come before, before.
  • 31:51 - 31:57
    Who have come before, before.
  • 31:57 - 31:59
    Working to break free
  • 32:35 - 32:39
    Hey
  • 32:39 - 32:42
    Yeah
  • 32:43 - 32:45
    Hey
  • 32:49 - 32:52
    Don't ya hold me down no,
  • 32:52 - 32:55
    don't you see that I am flying?
  • 32:57 - 33:02
    I slip from your grip cuz I am free
  • 33:05 - 33:08
    Don't ya hold me down no,
  • 33:08 - 33:14
    don't you see that I am flying?
  • 33:14 - 33:19
    I slip from your grip cuz I am free.
  • 33:19 - 33:24
    This world is just a world
  • 33:24 - 33:28
    These bricks are made to fall
  • 33:28 - 33:31
    a broke through
    your facade and so can we
  • 33:31 - 33:35
    so can we
  • 33:35 - 33:39
    this world is just a world
  • 33:39 - 33:44
    these bricks were made to fall
  • 33:44 - 33:46
    the broke through your facade
  • 33:46 - 33:47
    and so can we
  • 33:47 - 33:50
    so can we
  • 33:50 - 33:51
    I said prison break
  • 33:51 - 33:58
  • 33:58 - 34:01
    prison break...
Title:
Survival, Strength, Sisterhood: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside
Description:

"Survival, Strength, Sisterhood: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside" is a short film that documents the 20 year history of the annual women's memorial march for missing and murdered women in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. By focusing on the voices of women who live, love, and work in the Downtown Eastside this film debunks the sensationalism surrounding a neighbourhood deeply misunderstood, and celebrates the complex and diverse realities of women organizing for justice. (32 mins)

A film by Alejandro Zuluaga and Harsha Walia, based on concept by the Downtown Eastside Power of Women Group. This is a not-for-profit production that is available for free distribution under creative commons license. For more information, to book a screening, or to order a DVD
please contact hwalia8@gmail.com or alejo.zuluag@gmail.com.

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Video Language:
English

English subtitles

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