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Violence against Indigenous women and the case of Cindy Gladue

| March 30, 2015
Violence against Indigenous women and the case of Cindy Gladue

This conversation is triggering and discusses violence against and the injuries of Indigenous women.

I wish we didn't have to have it and that I didn't have to say any of this.

At 12, I knew enough to be scared of the men who would drive by our yard slowly and would stare at my sister and I as we played.

At 24, I was aware enough to fear the men who hung out solo at bars and who made oddly sexualized comments to my friends and I.

At 36, knowledge of a dangerous world for Indigenous women was solidified in me and I was scared to walk down the street at night alone, and some streets during the day.

At 48, I am terrified at the vulnerability my niece faces as she travels through the world and is given the message: your body does not matter. It cannot be damaged. You do not count. You are not human. As a non-human, you cannot be murdered.

When she was 36, Cindy Gladue was a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister and a community member. Cindy Gladue was an Indigenous woman.

At 36, Cindy Gladue died from an 11 cm wound inflicted inside her from a sharp-edged instrument or, according to Brad Barton -- who was found not guilty of first degree murder even though he admitted to inflicting the wound that killed her -- his hand inside of her vagina. We know this because her body parts were before the courtroom for observation in the deliberation to determine whether Cindy Gladue was murdered.

There is nothing I can say that would prepare anyone, any of us, for how triggering and appalling this is. There is no vocabulary to describe or unpack to the violence of this; I am sorry to repeat it.

Perhaps this explains the relative silence in the Canadian and international media about this. Some media outlets responded with what has become an unsurprising lack of empathy or investigation. Others were seemingly confused about how to discuss her death -- "accidental death by sex act, or murder?" asked one.

To those who know the legacy of violence that impacts us as Indigenous women, there is no confusion. We know this fear, we know this dehumanization and we know the impact that it does not seem to have on the mindset of many, many Canadians. Including Prime Minister Harper.

The refusal to address the countless -- and don't let the number 1,200 fool you -- that number is limited to 'known and traceable' girls and women -- number of our women and girls who are murdered and missing is of great significance in Canadian society. If we are unable to have violence acknowledged that Indigenous women face when physically ripped apart and with body parts on display before a jury, how confident can we be with the statistics that tell us how many of us have actually gone missing?

For you see, if the Prime Minister of Canada, a man with authority and access to all of the information about missing and murdered Indigenous women, continues to assert boldly that the deaths of our women are not a "sociological phenomenon," if the Minister he appointed to address Aboriginal Affairs can assert publicly and without shame that "…there's a lack of respect for women and girls on reserves… So you know, if the guys grow up believing that women have no rights, that is how they are treated," and if 11 Canadian jurors can find that Cindy Gladue was not murdered, we have to begin to address publicly the reality that many of us have shared privately: Indigenous women are being erased not just by the peoples who kill us, but also by the systems that endorse that violence through silence or complicity.

And that by some absurd racialized alchemy, being an Indigenous woman is transmuted to owned, with ownership vesting the person who owns us with the right to do as s/he pleases with our dehumanized bodies.

Murders are happening, are taking place in huge numbers. We are not merely "missing." We are taken. Made to disappear. It is a phenomenon, it is happening, and it is happening in Prime Minister Harper's Calgary riding and near his home in Ottawa. It is happening in hotel rooms in Edmonton and it is happening on dirt roads near Saskatoon and Regina. It is happening in cities, in towns, and in communities across Canada -- many, many of them.

We know that it is not a problem of evidence, but of observability. The 11 jurors in this case (reportedly nine non-Indigenous men and two non-Indigenous women) had evidence before them that included Cindy Gladue's body parts. We don't know what else they had. We don't know what their perspective or understanding was. We don't know what compelling arguments they heard that convinced them that she had not been murdered.

What we do know is that many, many messages we get in the media reinforce the understanding that we, as Indigenous women, are disposable. That we as Indigenous women are, that the Indigenous body is, understood to be incapable of harm. Canada's Prime Minister tells us that these murders are not (occurrences, events, happening, facts, observed or observable) phenomenon. The verdict in the trial for the murder of Cindy Gladue supports this: the case asserts the understanding that a murder did not happen. That Cindy Gladue's death was not causally related to a non-consensual act. That a murder was not observable.

As long as people continue to assert this absurd blindness to the erasure of Indigenous peoples and the impossibility of violence marking Indigenous bodies, Indigenous peoples will continue to feel and may actually be hunted.

There is more to this, we are better than this, and our women -- all women -- deserve a better result than this. Regardless of race, occupation, home, and culture. Because of those and because of our belief in the value of every human and the reverence we must have for all of our relatives. Because we believe Indigenous peoples and Indigenous bodies are worthy of protection. Because Indigenous peoples are humans and humans possess the right to lives without violence.

Because we, too, love our granddaughters, daughters and nieces.

Tracey Lindberg is a citizen of the Kelly Lake Cree Nation / As'in'i'wa'chi Ni'yaw Nation Rocky Mountain Cree. She is a scholar and Indigenous rights advocate.



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