By Lee Waters
A vigil including chanting and traditional drumming was held on October 4th for 22-year-old Ashley Machisknic who was found dead in the alley behind the Regent Hotel on September 15th. Immediately following the vigil, about a hundred people marched down Hastings Street to the Vancouver Police headquarters. As news cameras snapped photos, the group swelled up the stairs of the eastside station, only to find eight women locked inside—they had arrived earlier demanding the police put more resources into investigating Ashley’s death. This added fuel to the fire, and as the women pounded on the inside glass doors, a microphone was set up and a pick-up truck holding large speakers rolled onto the sidewalk, ready for an impromptu call to action regarding the investigation of Ashley’s death.
The police claim Ashley’s death was suicide, but others believe she was thrown out of hotel room 518, landing on her back to fight for her final breaths. Ashley’s grieving family of Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan has asked Vancouver Police not to discard Ashley’s death as suicide. Lawrence Strongarm, Ashley’s grandfather, told The Province. “I know in my heart that Ashley would never commit suicide. We raised her when she was a little child not to do any harm to herself, ever.” Eastside activists believe Ashley was murdered to send a message for vulnerable women to pay their drug debts or be killed. Gladys Radek, an organizer of the annual Walk 4 Justice, told The Province, “We’re told Ashley was thrown into the lane, and 10 seconds after she landed, her shoes were thrown out after her—everyone understood that as a threat coming directly from the drug dealers.”
Police spokesperson Const. Lindsey Houghton said the group at police headquarters demanded a meeting with Chief Constable Jim Chu. “They allegedly refused repeated appeals by officers to leave and indicated that officers would have to arrest them,” Houghton told The Province. “Chief Constable Chu agreed to meet with a representative at a later date to discuss their concerns, and that prompted five of the protesters to leave on their own accord.” The remaining three protesters were arrested.
Women’s groups have written to the VPD claiming that police are “ignoring Ashley’s death” just as they have ignored the deaths of many other First Nations women. “This is the same dismissive attitude toward economically marginalized people from the Downtown Eastside we’ve always got from the VPD,” said an angry Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “We thought we were moving away from the ‘just another dead Indian’ attitude.”