When do we stop being idle? Action needed on missing and murdered Aboriginal women

| February 16, 2013
Vancouver's 22nd Annual Women's Memorial March. (Photo: David P. Ball)

Ours hearts give a damn. The public -- Indigenous communities with their mainstream Canadian allies -- march every Valentine's Day in support of their disappeared women. Now it's time for the government to act.

A sign at Vancouver's annual Women's Memorial March, held on Thursday, read: "We should all care. And remember."

 Let me stop here to note that the Vancouver Downtown East Side (DTES) rallies have been going on for 22 years. That is 22 years too long. Eight years too long in Toronto. Three years too long in Ottawa.

 At what point do honest Canadians reach their breaking point? At what point do honest Canadians realize that there is an epidemic of racism and sexism that fuels the fires of this nation-wide loss of life.

When do we stop being idle?

Gladys Radek, a long-time activist for Indigenous women, stated recently, "It is getting really exhausting for a lot of the grassroots movement but we want our family's voices to be heard."

At last count, more than 600 Aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada since the 1970s, according to Sisters in Spirit.

Radek, of Walk4Justice, feels that the number is actually much higher -- in the thousands. She has moved from B.C. to the nation's capital, Ottawa, to be closer to the federal government in order to push for a national inquiry into the disappearances and death.

Of her tough yet inspiring work, she says, "There isn't a day that we don't post one, two, and sometimes three in the same day, of another young girl missing." She herself lost a niece in B.C., Tamara Chipman, the ultimate crush to the heart that lead her to this kind of advocacy work.

Hundreds of lives have been lost. Thousands of family members have been affected by this soft genocide of female, Indigenous bodies.

One solution, well marked this year with its kinship to the Idle No More movement, is first to acknowledge that Canada has a problem.

On Thursday, Carolyn Bennett tweeted out to Minister of State for the Status of Women: "@MinRonaAmbrose: If rate of #MMIW was happening to non-native Cdn women, over 20,000 would be murdered and missing by now. #CdnPoli #LPC #MMIW"

Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) research shows that statistically, Indigenous women and girls make up ten per cent of all homicides across Canada, but only make up three per cent of the total population.

As advocates for Indigenous women have been working hard -- and often under the radar for years -- the Harper government suffered a huge blow to its public image regarding its ability to recognize and react to the unfolding crisis.

Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch released documentation of allegations of police abuse against Aboriginal women in British Columbia.

In response, Human Rights Watch is taking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to task for telling victims to just "get on" with reporting the abuse.

According to a Global News report, "Samer Muscati, a Canadian researcher who was involved in compiling the report released Wednesday, said Harper missed the whole point -- that Aboriginal women and girls are often too traumatized to co-operate with police."

"Those comments ignore the fear of reprisal those victims have," Muscati told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday.

"The comments don't address the core issue of the lack of security that prevents indigenous women and girls from filing complaints of police abuse."

Justice for Girls, a Vancouver based organization, approached Human Rights Watch in 2011 for assistance in investigating the lack of institutional concern for the high number of murdered or missing Indigenous women.

On Thursday, the day after Human Rights Watch released their findings of systemic abuses of Indigenous women at the hands of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the federal government did announce that it would commit to creating a special committee to address missing and murdered Indigenous women, agreeing to evaluate public policy issues surrounding the deaths and disappearances. 

That said, a parliamentary committee is not the same thing as an open, public inquiry -- which is what grassroots Indigenous groups and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) have all been calling for.

According to rabble.ca reporter Karl Nerenberg, providing context to the federal government's relationship with the New York based Human Rights Watch: "Prime Minister Harper could barely conceal his contempt for non-partisan, evidence-based organizations such as Human Rights Watch in Parliament on Wednesday. One might have expected the government to at least acknowledge that it was aware of the disturbing report from a respected international body; and to, at the minimum, say it was looking into the allegations."

With the Idle No More movement getting stronger and smarter by the week, and with the strength of the thousands who came out across Canada to seek justice for murdered and missing Indigenous women, it is quite apparent that a parliamentary committee is not an end solution, just simply another step towards demanding a full public inquiry.

It is time to act. We care.

 

Photo: David P. Ball

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