Book review: Red Women Rising a chorus of DTES resistance and survival – Vancouver Sun

Red Women Rising authors Harsha Walia and Carol Muree Martin take pains to put the testimony of the Indigenous women of the Downtown Eastside at the centre of their book.

Red Women Rising co-authors Carol Muree Martin, right, and Harsha Walia. Fatima Jaffer / PNG

Red Women Rising

Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

By Carol Muree Martin and Harsha Walia

The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, 2019 | 216pp


“I am surprised I am still alive. Out of seventeen of my friends who came from the Okanagan, I am the only one who is still alive. All the rest are dead from being murdered, or overdosed, or got real sick. I am here to hold hands with all my sisters and to raise our voices together. The DTES is our family, our people, our reserve. I am never going to be quiet. I am never going anywhere. We, the First Nations women in the DTES, will always stand up for what we believe in and for our sisters and the memories of the sisters we have lost. When I die, I know my sisters will stand in my memory.”

— Suzanne Kilroy, Indigenous woman and DTES resident

Book review: Red Women Rising a chorus of DTES resistance and survival - Vancouver Sun

The statistics are enough to break the heart, but too often they only glaze the eyes and numb compassion.

Indigenous children and youth are 15 times more likely to be in foster care in Canada than other children. One hundred and twenty B.C. children and youth (the majority Indigenous) died in care in 2016. Life expectancy for Indigenous women in Canada is five years less than for the total population. Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than non-Indigenous women, and they are seven times more likely to be killed by serial killers.

Indigenous women and children have been literally studied to death. Too often the studies are done by white academics or bureaucrats, and the voices of the women who endure these horrors is lost in antiseptic language and stupefying statistics.

Book review: Red Women Rising a chorus of DTES resistance and survival - Vancouver Sun

Co-authors Carol Muree Martin, right, and Harsha Walia. Fatima Jaffer / PNG

Red Women Rising is not another study from the outside. Authors Harsha Walia and Carol Muree Martin, with the publisher Downtown Eastside Women¹s Centre, take pains to put the testimony of the Indigenous women of their neighbourhood at the centre of their book. They interweave first-person accounts of survival and resistance from those women with scholarly citations that reinforce rather than drown out the voices.

We need to listen to those voices and not just shake our heads in sorrow. This courageous book is a call to 200 specific actions. We should all listen when the authors tell us: “Indigenous women’s over-representation in statistics on poverty, homelessness, child apprehensions, police street checks, incarceration, opioid overdose fatalities, and health inequities are part of an infrastructure of gendered colonial violence.”

• Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes feedback and story tips at [email protected]

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