For immediate release: March 28, 2011
Toronto, Canada and El Estor, Guatemala:
Rosa Elbira Coc Ich and ten other indigenous Mayan Q'eqchi' women filed a lawsuit Monday against Canadian mining companies HMI Nickel, and its corporate owner, HudBay Minerals, regarding mining-related gang-rapes suffered by them near a Canadian-owned mining site in Guatemala.
On January 17, 2007, the eleven women were gang-raped by mining company security personnel, police and military during the forceful expulsion of Mayan Q'eqchi' families from their farms and homes in the community of "Lote Ocho". These armed evictions were sought by HMI Nickel in relation to its Fenix mining project, located on the north shores of Lake Izabal, Guatemala.
Events of recent weeks have repeatedly reminded me of some long-standing questions I've had surrounding the obligations of Aboriginal communities to their members, in particular, to their female members.
These reminders have come as a series of three news stories, published separately but seemingly tied together by one underlying theme, one I am loathe to contemplate: that the systemic disregard for the lives and lot of Aboriginal women may now exist not only within the larger Canadian society, but across far too many Aboriginal communities themselves.
After 600 Aboriginal women and girls go missing or are found murdered in Canada, the federal government decides to throw-a-bone and give $10 million dollars. In March, the Canadian Minister of Justice budgeted $10 million over two years to address the issue of murdered and missing women in Canada, however, they have yet to figure out how to use the money.
Its intent may be to promote gender equity in Indian registration, but Bill C-3 [now before Parliament] does not ensure that women and their descendants will be treated the same as men and their descendants for the purposes of determining Indian status.
Witnesses told the standing committee on Aboriginal affairs this spring that the Conservative government's bill to address sex discrimination is not a remedy they support.
The bill is Ottawa's response to McIvor v. Canada, a 2009 B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that found that Section 6 of the Indian Act violates Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court gave Ottawa a year to fix the legislation.
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads their Centre for Indigenous Governance. She is the author of Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity and blogs regularly at rabble.ca.