One of my greatest fears is concerning the staying power of the social justice campaigns that I care deeply about.
Let’s face it, front-page ink is at a premium and our collective attention spans reel from one national or natural disaster after another like we’ve all drunk off the cause du jour.
Ebola in Africa. Gunman on Parliament Hill. Jian Ghomeshi’s sex scandal. The Royals are pregnant — again.
And then the quiet death from the North will blanket us all into the silence of winter.
Winter makes me nervous. I’ve seen people and politicians fret over what to do about the visibly homeless, those living rough. I’ve read so many memos and official government reports that the paper they’re printed on would be put to better use in keeping the barrel fires burning at night.
I do want to be clear to everyone that it’s not just the cold that truly kills, it’s poverty: grinding poverty on old bones that have to sleep on the cold ground; bodies consumed with numerous, co-concurrent health and substance abuse issues; minds destroyed by grief at the loss of a member of their Street Family or the separation from their natural kin.
While there hasn’t been an official counting of the homeless by the city that I trust (how many stay with friends or bounce from shelter to rehab — all I know is that Toronto’s shelter beds fill to capacity every winter.
We do know that according to Patricia Anderson of the city’s Shelter, Housing and Support Department that since 2014 there have been 139 reported deaths of shelter residents since 2007 — 59 of which took place last year.
It’s also the chill of winter that makes me nervous. Nervous because I can sit back in my chair and sadly picture an Indigenous woman lying on the cold ground, perhaps wondering if her family is out looking for her, doubting that the police are.
At this point, I could probably let statistics take over. I hope by now that a large segment of Canadians know their way around these sad numbers: According to RCMP data, at least 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered from 1980 to 2012. This is a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada. In addition, evidence the police have states that as of November 2013, at least 105 Indigenous women and girls remained missing under suspicious circumstances or for undetermined reasons.
With this kind of track record, I am fearful for what’s to come if we as a society do not come to terms with the outrageous numbers of deaths of Indigenous woman and girls in Canada. Nothing short of Idle No More turning into a civil rights movement can bring justice now. Indigenous women will literally die waiting for parliamentary politicians to agree to launch of a full scale inquiry.
I’m not talking about another apology or throwing more money at the problem — which Harper has already done in an attempt to wash his hands of the problem when on Monday September 15, 2014, he announced a $25 million, five-year plan which would tackle the issue in “high-risk communities,” within the context of the Economic Action Plan 2014 budget. But really listening to what elders and community members are asking for in the way of support to stop the cycle of violence.
When even one sexually and racially motivated death is too many, we have communities across Canada that have never been idle to bring their loved ones homes. But we also have families so riddled with sickness and grief brought on by substance abuse, that there is enough tragedy to go around and overwhelm.
Yes Canadians care within context. We talk and we publish, but the issue is soon forgotten, as another wave of bad news hits us. Then it’s not longer worried about. No longer talked about. No longer written about.
Does anyone remember the sheer force of outrage and passion expressed when polite, southern Canada found out about the gas-sniffing crisis among Innu youth at Davis Inlet?
That was back in the winter of 2000, when Innu leaders sounded the alarm regarding the epidemic of solvent sniffing in their isolated communities of Davis Inlet and Sheshatshiu, of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The leaders and elders of those communities begged the government for help – and help came in the form of health authorities armed with warrants. Roughly fifty children were removed; twenty were sent to a makeshift detox in Goose Bay while roughly another thirty were taken to a detox center in St. Johns.
In December 2000, Health Canada promised to step in and initiate substance abuse treatment programs, aimed at long term solutions?
What has happened since then, after the southern-Canadian uproar and the slow slide the issue took back into the cold sea?
Well on October 16, 2014, a story broke in the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) about the Innu from the Labrador community of Sheshatshiu who are outraged about a video circulating via social media.
According to APTN, the video depicts non-Indigenous residents from nearby Happy Valley-Goose Bay mocking the Innu in some of their most vulnerable moments — while sniffing solvents and suffering from addictions.
Great to know that the Canadian and provincial governments were so successful at solving that crisis that there is nothing left to worry about in our good old North. Or did Harper miss that part of the Arctic tour?
Will the coming of winter and the passing of time make us conveniently forget about this and that tragedy as well?
I remember the fire of such campaigns as Idle No More, the round dances under the snowflakes and the pale light of the setting sun. I remember when we used to claim to care about outrageously high rates of substance abuse within certain Innu communities or the homeless on our city streets. I remember when we used to demand that we be Idle No More in the face of high statistical numbers of murdered and missing Indigenous women.
Photo by Krystalline Kraus