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March 11, 2016

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CUPE Women’s Day event a big hit in Downtown Eastside


VANCOUVER – Local celebrations for this year’s International Women’s Day featured a successful community event in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, with the best turnout ever at the annual Aboriginal Friendship Centre celebration.

CUPE Metro District Council President Cindy McQueen, welcoming everyone, paid tribute to the heroic efforts of Downtown Eastside women.

“You are the nurturers and the 24-hour caregivers,” McQueen told the large group. “Thank you for all the contributions you make in your community, your home life and in your families.”

First Nations elder Rita Blind, in her opening blessing, spoke about women’s role in today’s difficult world. “It is time for us women to take the reins, to bring back kindness, love, compassion and forgiveness for all that has happened to our people in this land and this country.” She called on women to come forward and for men to stand behind them.

Melanie Mark, B.C.’s first-ever First Nations woman elected to the Legislature, won hearts with her empowering story, her warmth, and her generous spirit.

The recently elected Mount Pleasant BC NDP MLA said it was an honour to be at an event with “so many powerhouse women,” noting that “Sisterhood is a family affair. We need to keep fighting. Today is a celebration of our sisterhood, our fighting spirit, our warrior spirit.”

Mark, sharing stories of the bullying she has witnessed and experienced throughout her life, called for an end to bullying throughout our society.

“We need to overcome the past because we want to make a difference,” she said, recalling the sense of pride she felt on the day she was sworn into the Legislature, having the Drums in the house and wearing her grandmother’s button blanket.

“This is reconciliation.  We need to overcome the past because we want to make a difference,” said Mark. “The drumming in the house that day was the heartbeat of our people. It was strong that day and people want change.”

Company B Jazz Band, kicking off the celebration, led everyone in the singing of “Bread and Roses” before keeping everyone entertained with music throughout the afternoon. After lunch was served, attendees enjoyed Coast Salish drumming and songs led by two women who also led the drumming for the recent truth and reconciliation march.

Activities included face painting and making beaded necklaces. Many participants enjoyed the opportunity to learn how to make a cedar bracelet. CUPE BC Diversity Vice President (Aboriginal Workers) Debra Merrier provided the cedar strips, lessons and teachings.

McQueen thanked the 22 volunteers from CUPE Metro locals whose contribution made the event possible for the 140 women who attended.  After lunch and entertainment, volunteers handed out 80 protein-pack lunches to those in need. They also distributed toiletry bags filled with body care products and 60 purses filled with personal care products donated by CUPE Local 15’s Young Workers Committee. The purses were a huge hit, so the Local plans to collect and distribute donated purses again next year.

“We had an amazing day honouring women at risk and women who provide support to them,” said McQueen. “They are the true champions of our community – for many of them, survival is a daily challenge and they are empowered by each other’s strength.”

CUPE Metro Vancouver District Council serves CUPE locals in the Lower Mainland from Surrey to the Sunshine Coast. It sponsors the IWD women’s lunch event, rotating through seven Metro communities. The event, organized by women for women, recognizes community services for women and the women who provide and use those services while providing a safe place for women to come together.

See photos.

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