Sherbrooke Record

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

- 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: and take the Pledge to End Violence at

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