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