Thursday, September 04, 2014


People attend a vigil for Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba

The murders and disappearances have gone on since 1980.  One thousand, two hundred murdered or missing.  Must be a huge uproar.  Well, not so much.  

The 1,200 missing or murdered people are aboriginal women and girls in Canada, and when relatives, friends and others go to Ottawa for help, they get not much of anything.

As Warren Kinsella writes at First Perspective, 

Now, we don't even have to say out loud that if the 1,200 murdered or missing were, say, debutantes or Rotarians or hockey players, nobody would be looking for something else to read in today's paper. If it had been a bunch of white girls who had been killed or disappeared, there would be no collective societal shrug taking place.

Holy God Almighty, there'd be a hue and a cry like none this nation had ever seen. You'd have mild-mannered suburbanites storming Parliament Hill with pitchforks and torches if we were talking about 20 Midget "A" teams, or the entire population of Tilt Cove, Newfoundland, or Greenwood, B.C.

But it's aboriginal women. And so nobody's enraged and nobody's storming Parliament Hill.

Some of you may say, well, people get killed and go missing all the time.  Uh huh, well not like this.  As Indigenous Nationhood points out:

Indigenous women suffer a victimization rate three times higher than the Canadian population and are grossly over-represented in the number of women that go murdered and missing. While homicides have declined for Canadian women, the same cannot be said for Indigenous women. Indigenous women make up 4% of the population in Canada but 11% of the missing women and 16% of the murdered women. While these numbers are high, the levels in the western provinces and northern territories are frightening. The number of murdered Indigenous women in Manitoba is 49% and in Saskatchewan its 55%.

Well, surely you say, the RCMP, the other police authorities, the courts are doing all they can.  Uh huh, well, not so much.  Again from Indigenous Nationhood:

 The most disturbing of all reports is the 2013 report entitled Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Colombia prepared by Human Rights Watch. This report concluded that Indigenous women and girls are not only “under-protected” by the RCMP but are in fact the objects of RCMP abuse. They highlighted the many allegations of RCMP officers sexually exploiting and abusing young Indigenous girls.. There are reports of confinement, rape, and sexual assault on Indigenous girls and some have led to law suits. They also reported on a class action law suit against the RCMP by its own female officers for sexual harassment and gender discrimination...

...While the government and RCMP have, at times, tried to blame the victims for their own circumstances, it seems very clear that a large part of the problem is government and RCMP’s racist and sexist attitudes towards Indigenous women and girls. In addition to Canada’s discriminatory laws and policies against Indigenous peoples generally, and women specifically, the Human Rights Watch group even reports on an example of the judiciary being involved in the abuse against these girls. David Ramsay, a provincial court judge, was accused of sexually assaulting and violently abusing girls between 12 and 17 and eventually plead guilty. How are Indigenous women and girls supposed to get justice if the Justice system participates in the abuse and rape of these women?

 One of the biggest impediments to moving forward is the continued failure of the federal government to have the RCMP investigated to determine the full extent to which racism against Indigenous people and sexism against women in general hamper their work. Harper’s own discriminatory attitude towards Indigenous peoples is a significant barrier to moving forward. Even the most recent United Nations report from the Rapporteur commented on how poor the relationship is between Canada and Indigenous peoples and has become worse since the last visit to Canada in 2003. The United Nations is not alone in its observation of deteriorating government relations – the Bertelsmann Foundation is the latest to note that Canada’s record on governance has declined under Harper, especially when it comes to Indigenous peoples. The UN further stated that Canada’s negative public comments about Indigenous peoples risks social peace. 

There are indigenous people, even some others, who do care and they are fighting for recognition, fighting to ensure something is done, fighting for the missing and dead.  For example, I take you to Manitoba where  the death of a 15-year-old girl, Tina Fontaine, has prompted dozens of people to camp in the shadow of the Manitoba Legislature for days, calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.  The camp was set up two weeks ago  following the discovery of Tina’s body wrapped in a bag in the Red River. The number of tents has continued to grow, as has the resolve and optimism of many protesters who hope this tragedy can be a turning point.  Kylo Prince, speaking for many at the camp, says what is happening is merely a continuation of the genocide of Canada's native people. He says there s always hope.

“If I had no hope, I wouldn’t be standing here. I would be sitting in an alley, slamming some whisky with a needle in my arm and a crack pipe hanging out of my lips. But no, there is hope. We will conquer the darkness, but with light. We can’t fight it with anger or hatred.”

He thinks that maybe the fact that the Conservative federal government has reversed itself and now said it is will to participate in a roundtable discussion about the missing and the killed aboriginal women is one of those hopeful signs.

I don't know.

The government's overall response to Tina's death is nothing to write home about.  The government is thinking a national DNA database would be good  and maybe some sort of aboriginal justice initiatives (aimed at aboriginal offenders).  Sara Hunt is a member of the Kwagiulth band of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation. She is an independent writer, researcher and advocate who has worked for more than 15 years on Indigenous anti-violence and justice initiatives.  She has something to say about this and more:

 I would argue that these efforts serve to distract from root causes by focusing on indigenous people themselves as the problem.

This sentiment was reinforced when Winnipeg police Sgt. John O’Donovan stated that Tina didn’t realize “the danger she was putting herself in.” What danger is this? The danger of living in a society that condones violence against indigenous women, where killers face few deterrents, and where missing women are blamed for putting themselves “at risk.”
Surely tracking indigenous girls’ DNA so they can be identified after they die is not the starting point for justice. Indigenous women want to matter before we go missing. We want our lives to matter as much as our deaths; our stake in the present political struggle for indigenous resurgence is as vital as the future.

So do we need an inquiry?

We need to stop the killing of 15-year-old native girls. We need to put an end to the abduction of indigenous women. We need to overhaul a justice system in which justice is so distorted that it is no longer recognizable. We need no more excuses, no more condolences, no more lists of missing women. We need an end to treating violence as mundane.

An inquiry will only help if it has action attached and if it shifts power into the hands of indigenous women, meaning it is led by indigenous women. Such a process will only be meaningful if it has the scope and power to illuminate the multi-layered systemic failures which contribute to this relentless violence. Working across jurisdictional divisions and levels of governmental responsibility in the child welfare system, the justice system, the education system and the systems of transportation and housing, we need to find some semblance of accountability toward indigenous girls and women.

Accountability means supporting existing anti-violence measures already being initiated by indigenous communities. These include rite-of-passage ceremonies to restore honour for young women, the Moosehide Campaign in which native boys and men take on culturally-relevant responsibilities to end violence toward women, and mentoring between girls and women which fosters the resurgence of women’s cultural roles at a local level. Organizations such as the Native Youth Sexual Health Network must also be supported in their powerful educational work by and for native youth. Accountability means supporting indigenous visions of justice, restoring our humanity and upholding girls’ resistance and leadership.

Treating our deaths as unremarkable is a form of violence that needs to stop along with the murders themselves. Taking steps to end the violence now is the only route to justice.

I have been covering this story for years and it seems to just never change.  Well, here is just an example of one of the reasons why....from  Intercontinental Cry.


Canada’s shameful colonial history as it relates to Indigenous peoples and women specifically is not well known by the public at large. The most horrific of Canada’s abuses against Indigenous peoples are not taught in schools. Even public discussion around issues like genocide have been censored by successive federal governments, and most notably by Harper’s Conservatives. Recently, the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights refused to use the term “genocide” to describe Canada’s laws, policies and actions towards Indigenous peoples which led to millions of deaths. The reason?: because that term was not acceptable to the federal government and the museum is after all, a Crown corporation.
Aside from the fact that this museum will be used as a propaganda tool for Canada vis-à-vis the international community, Harper’s Conservatives are also paying for targeted research to back up their propaganda as it relates to murdered, missing and traded Indigenous women. This is not the first time that Harper has paid for counter information and propaganda material as it relates to Indigenous peoples, and it likely won’t be the last. However, this instance of soliciting targeted research to help the government blame Indigenous peoples for their own victimization and oppression is particularly reprehensible given the massive loss of life involved over time.
The issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women was made very public by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) several years ago through their dedicated research, community engagement and advocacy efforts. Even the United Nations took notice and starting commenting on Canada’s obligation to address this serious issue. Yet, in typical Harper-Conservative style, once the issue became a hot topic in the media, they cut critical funding to NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit program which was the heart of their research and advocacy into murdered and missing Indigenous women.
To further complicate the matter, any attempts for a national inquiry into the issue has been thwarted by the federal government, despite support for such an inquiry by the provinces and territories. One need only look at the fiasco of the Pickton Inquiry in British Columbia to understand how little governments in Canada value the lives of Indigenous women, their families and communities. The inquiry was headed by Wally Oppal, the same man who previously denied the claims of Indigenous women who were forcibly sterilized against their knowledge and consent. The inquiry seemed more interested in insulating the RCMP from investigation and prosecution than it was about hearing the stories of Indigenous women.
Now, the Canadian public has to deal with a new chapter to this story – the sale of Indigenous women into the sex trades. The CBC recently reported that current research shows that Indigenous women, girls and babies in Canada were taken onto US ships to be sold into the sex trade. While this is not new information for Indigenous peoples, it is something that Canada has refused to recognize in the past. The research also shows that Indigenous women are brought onto these boats never to be seen from again.
The issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women has now expanded to murdered, missing and traded women. One might have expected a reaction from both the Canadian government and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Yet, the day after the story hit the news, the AFN was tweeting about local competitions and the federal government was essentially silent. I say essentially, because while all of this was taking place, the federal government put together a Request for Proposals on MERX (#275751) to solicit research to blame the families and communities of Indigenous women for being sold into the sex trade.
Instead of making a call for true academic research into the actual causes and conditions around Indigenous women, girls and babies being sold into the sex trade, the federal government solicited research to prove:
(1) the involvement of family members in their victimization;
(2) the level to which domestic violence is linked to the sale of Indigenous women into the sex trade; and
(3) even where they are investigating gang involvement, it is within the context of family involvement of the trade of Indigenous women.
The parameters of the research excludes looking into federal and/or provincial laws and policies towards Indigenous peoples; funding mechanisms which prejudice them and maintain them in the very poverty the research identifies; and negative societal attitudes formed due to government positions vis-à-vis Indigenous women like:
  • rapes and abuse in residential schools;
  • forced sterilizations;
  • the theft of thousands of Indigenous children into foster care;
  • the over-representation of Indigenous women in jails;
  • and the many generations of Indigenous women losing their Indian status and membership and being kicked off reserves by federal law.
The research also leaves out a critical aspect of this research which is federal and provincial enforcement laws, policies and actions or lack thereof in regards to the reports of murdered, missing and traded Indigenous women, girls and babies. The epic failure of police to follow up on reports and do proper investigations related to these issues have led some experts to conclude that this could have prevented and addressed murdered, missing and traded Indigenous women. Of even greater concern are the allegations that have surfaced in the media in relation to RCMP members sexually assaulting Indigenous women and girls.
This MERX Request for Proposals is offensive and should be retracted and re-issued in a more academically-sound manner which looks to get at the full truth, versus a federally-approved pre-determined outcome.
It’s time Canada opened up the books, and shed light on the real atrocities in this country so that we can all move forward and address them.
Originally published at Indigenous Nationhood

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