“No one knows exactly how many Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada over the past three decades… However, we do know with certainty that the marginalization of Indigenous women in Canadian society has led to an extremely high risk of violence. According to a 1996 Canadian government statistic, Indigenous women between the ages of 25 and 44 with status under the federal Indian Act are five times more likely than other women of the same age to die as the result of violence.”
“Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency last year over a lack of suitable housing… observers compare the conditions in the community to those found in the world’s poorest countries.” James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous peoples noted that, “aboriginal communities face higher rates of poverty, and poorer health, education and employment outcomes than non-aboriginals in Canada.
–Globe and Mail, December 2, 2012
People living in third world conditions? Women kidnapped, raped, and murdered in numbers that some say constitutes genocide, or the more recent term, femicide? It breaks my heart that there are circumstances in many parts of the world right now that would call for such a term but Canada? Peaceful, multicultural Canada? Since the 80’s there have been well over six hundred “documented” cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Most agree the number is much higher and we cannot know for sure how many because society, and many victim’s families would suggest, the police, do not seem to see this as a priority. What are the reasons behind this? How have we allowed this to continue? Why aren’t we talking about it? At the Missing Indigenous Women Conference, held in Regina in 2008, Carol Schick, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina offered 3 reasons, “because they are women, they are Indigenous, and often living in poverty.” Indeed, but let’s dig deeper.
Colonialism, the stripping of our beautiful land’s native peoples of not only their longstanding home, but of their culture, language, traditions, dignity, children and women, their entire way of interacting and understanding the world, is at the root of many different issues facing them today. This is a people who lived and still live in a state of oneness and respect for the earth and all its creatures, recognizing what we are only just coming to recognize, that when we cause harm, we harm ourselves. As in most colonized or war torn areas of our predominantly patriarchal world, it is frequently women who suffer most, who are marginalized and often pushed into dangerous and degrading situations and circumstances such as homelessness and sex work.
In Canada, there is still a lingering effect of deep rooted colonial patterns of perception and of thinking, a hierarchy of worth that renders Indigenous women more susceptible to violence and indignities, contributes to a failure to investigate crimes against them immediately and thoroughly. Many of the women who spoke out at The Missing Indigenous Woman Conference, spoke of the Indian princess/squaw motif, a stigma that perpetuates racism and a sense of entitlement that is still reflected in how they are perceived and treated today.
“I believe that if my daughter was a Caucasian woman her disappearance would have made the national headlines, that the search for her would have begun immediately, that the media would have continued to keep her story alive, and that people would have come from all walks of life to help in the search.”
–Gwenda Yuzicappi, whose daughter Amber Redman went missing in 2005, her remains were found 3 years later in 2008
The words of Ms. Yuzicappi echo the sentiment of many families that if their daughters, sisters, partners, mothers, friends were not aboriginal, this “femicide” would not be tolerated. It would have received a lot more attention, money, and man/woman power toward its eradication. The Partnership Committee has been created in Saskatchewan to “improve collaboration and support provided to families and communities of missing persons.” Their mandate speaks to part of a possible solution; “To work toward a future that ensures that when people go missing there is a full response that mobilizes all necessary participants and that recognized the equal value of every life.”
The Spirits of these women speak to us now from the earth and above, asking us not to allow them to have suffered and died in vain, but to use their stories, and this time, to speak up, and demand that racist, sexist, ignorant crimes against women, their children, their families, humanity be stopped, and be stopped NOW. Let us heed their plea so that there is not one more generation of women and girls who succumb to the same fate because of stereotype, lack of support and inaction. “It is through silence that inequality is kept in place.”
Image: The REDress Project http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/