Miss­ing and mur­dered In­dige­nous Women in Canada and Grass­roots strate­gies for change

Sherbrooke Record - - FRONT PAGE - By Vicki Char­trand

Ifirst ac­knowl­edge the tra­di­tional cus­to­di­ans of this land; the Abe­naki peo­ples and Wa­banaki Con­fed­er­acy. It is no co­in­ci­dence that as I ac­knowl­edge the tra­di­tional peo­ples, I am also talk­ing about the mur­der­ing and dis­ap­pear­ing of In­dige­nous women across Canada. This prob­lem has been a con­cern for In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies since colo­nial­ism, but has only re­cently been given sig­nif­i­cant media and public at­ten­tion. In 2004, the Na­tive Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada launched the public cam­paign “Stolen Sis­ters” to draw at­ten­tion to the high num­bers of In­dige­nous women go­ing miss­ing and mur­dered. Since this cam­paign, the RCMP have iden­ti­fied over 1300 cases thus far, along with a sub­stan­tial body of lit­er­a­ture has emerged to specif­i­cally high­light the sys­temic in­ter­sec­tions of colo­nial­ism, racism, and sex­ism that fuel the prob­lem in Canada and the role that crim­i­nal jus­tice, police, and gov­ern­ment in­ac­tion and media com­pla­cency have played in mak­ing In­dige­nous women more vul­ner­a­ble to vi­o­lence.

Pre­vi­ous to this re­search and na­tional at­ten­tion, in­clud­ing the re­cent launch of a Na­tional In­quiry into Miss­ing and Mur­dered In­dige­nous Women and Girls, the dis­ap­pear­ances and mur­ders of In­dige­nous women were rou­tinely ne­glected or largely treated as an “Abo­rig­i­nal prob­lem”. This ig­no­rance and lack of at­ten­tion re­sulted in many In­dige­nous fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties de­vel­op­ing their own strate­gies to ad­dress the mur­ders and dis­ap­pear­ances with lit­tle or no re­sources. This is re­flected, for ex­am­ple, in the Drag the Red cam­paign that started af­ter Tina Fon­taine’s body was found in the Red River of Man­i­toba and police re­fused to carry out fur­ther searches; the Am I Next cam­paign ini­ti­ated af­ter the death of Loretta Saun­ders that con­sisted of In­dige­nous women hold­ing “Am I Next” signs and post­ing them to so­cial media sites; Oper­a­tion Thun­der­bird an In­dige­nous group who use crowd map­ping to doc­u­ment the mur­ders and dis­ap­pear­ances of In­dige­nous and non-in­dige­nous women across Canada and the United States; the Miss­ing Man­i­toba Women group who rou­tinely con­duct searches and sup­port In­dige­nous fam­ily mem­bers with lost or miss­ing loved ones; the Tears4jus­tice group who carry out na­tional walks across Canada to raise aware­ness of the miss­ing and mur­dered women us­ing the women’s pic­tures and sto­ries. The co­or­di­nat­ing of search ef­forts, rais­ing aware­ness, sup­port­ing and unit­ing fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, and de­vel­op­ing a more in­clu­sive jus­tice for In­dige­nous women are only a few ex­am­ples of the im­por­tant but over­looked and un­doc­u­mented strate­gies of In­dige­nous fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties across Canada.

In­dige­nous peo­ples stand wit­ness to their an­ces­tors’ his­to­ries, bear the ex­pe­ri­ence of Canada’s set­tler colo­nial­ism, and hold the wis­dom to know what their com­mu­ni­ties need. Any plans to ad­dress the vi­o­lence that is en­demic to In­dige­nous women must flow from the fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, who need to be at the fore­front of any dis­cus­sions, rec­om­men­da­tions, or plans of ac­tion. As noted in the drum­ming wis­dom of the Kee­watin Otchitchak (North­ern Crane) Tra­di­tional Women Singers: “The drum re­minds us that as women we are sa­cred and pre­cious and are much more than what so­ci­ety has taught us that we are as women. The drum re­minds us that we stand in the truth of who we are as lead­ers, teach­ers, heal­ers, and de­ci­sion mak­ers”.

Dr. Vicki Char­trand is an As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor of So­ci­ol­ogy at Bishop’s Univer­sity. Her cur­rent re­search traces the his­tor­i­cal links be­tween pe­nal and colo­nial log­ics to un­der­stand the in­car­cer­a­tion of In­dige­nous peo­ples in Canada to­day. Also, as part of a col­lab­o­ra­tive method­ol­ogy, Dr. Char­trand re­cently drove across the coun­try to doc­u­ment the strate­gies and sto­ries of In­dige­nous fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties of miss­ing and mur­dered In­dige­nous women to ex­plore al­ter­na­tive grass­roots jus­tices.

Learn more about this Cana­dian is­sue, visit the Na­tive Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada: www.nwac.ca and take the Pledge to End Vi­o­lence at www.amnesty.ca.

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