Believe it or not: there is a major Human Rights violation occurring in Canada right now. Since 1980, at least 1,182 Aboriginal women are missing or have been murdered.  The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, however, admits that, despite these statistics, this number is likely substantially higher. How does something like this happen?

Twelve hundred mothers, sisters, and daughters have disappeared or are dead.   Breaking down the issue, the statistics surrounding this are staggering. Aboriginal women report violence 3.5 times higher than other Canadian women, and are 5 times more likely to die of this violence. Furthermore, the level of violence reported by Canadian First Nations women is more severe than that reported of other Canadian women.  The province of Alberta has the lowest “clearance” rates in the country – which means that the majority of the cases are not resolved. Why is this happening?

An inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada, (MMIWC) is taking place to investigate the underlying mechanisms that make Aboriginal women more susceptible to violence, and the corresponding response of government and other institutions. The inquiry is set to be completed in 2018 – after 2 years of data collected. However, the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Report card on the inquiry so far has it falling short of some expectations.

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Why Should You Care?

  • This issue has lasting impact. The majority of the missing and murdered are mothers. In 2010, an estimated more than 440 children were impacted by the loss of their mother. What becomes of these children in this intergenerational issue?
  • While the violence inflicted on aboriginal women is often done by their partner, Aboriginal women are 3 times more likely to be victims of violence from a stranger. This means that the crime has a lot to do with the vulnerability of the victim – and is far from simply an inter-familial or inter-cultural issue. This means that there are perpetrators among us who are actively seeking the most vulnerable members of our population.
  • Although MMIWC are receiving attention lately, this has not always been the case. There is a societal bias that this human rights violation has much to do with the risky lifestyle “chosen” by the victim. Victim blaming has no place in our society – a crime committed is the fault of the criminal, not the victim. As human beings, we are much more than what field we choose to earn money in. We all have multiple roles – and these women are daughters, mothers, friends, and “stolen sisters”.
  • If your set of personal ethics doesn’t lead you to be concerned, the very fact that there is a large inquiry being undertaken into this matter, that MMIWC is a well-known acronym, and the fact that Amnesty International has found this to be a significant human rights violation should stir you into concern.

What Can I Do?

Educate Yourself:

  • Gain knowledge in Canada’s historical treatment of Indigenous peoples and how these historical events, in particular, the Residential Schools, are impacting Indigenous peoples today.
  • Take a look around at the women in your life. Try to imagine what it must be like to physically search for them, maybe never hearing from them again after they disappear one night, or finding their remains after weeks or months of searching. Thousands of families and communities are directly affected by missing or murdered women. Make it real to yourself. Meet people who are searching. Hear their stories and recognize their humanity as well. Then lend a hand.

Create Awareness:

  • Help out with The Red Dress Project, where red dresses are displayed annually to symbolize each of the 1, 182 missing or murdered.
  • Partake in the Annual Women’s Memorial March that occurs in and around February 14 in various cities.

Influence Change:

  • Do not allow racist dialogue of any kind to occur around you.
  • Spread the word: do not be afraid to tell people that this issue matters to you, in-person and on social media.
  • Expressions of Reconcilliation – become involved in the truth and reconciliation process with suggestions found here.
  • Support feminism – which seeks to find equality for both genders and all races.
  • Reach out to groups doing work around these stolen sisters and at-risk Indigenous women, and lend your time, money and support to keep them safe.

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Erin Newman, M.Ed. is a mental health therapist specializing in the treatment of youth in both private practice and in the public sector. She is also passionate about feminist issues, Indigenous rights, and advocacy for children and youth. Academically, Erin was the recipient of the Indspire Scholarship and the Metis Bursary Award for social services. She hopes to pursue further graduate studies exploring how movement, dance and therapy can assist in healing trauma. Erin uses gardening, nature, and animal therapy for her own personal growth, is a dancer with the integrated and political performing group, CRIPSIE, and spends the rest of her spare time chasing after a toddler.

In personal solidarity with Alberta’s First Nations and Indigenous communities, The Drawing Board owner, Nakita Valerio, is raising money raising money in support of the Young Indigenous Women’s Circle of Leadership youth camp by getting sponsorship for a 5km run on October 8th, 2016.

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The money will be donated to the YIWCL to be used for basic operational costs of their 8-day intensive, Cree-immersion cultural camp. Recently, this camp lost funding and faces an uncertain future.

This initiative means a lot to me because I have learned that one of the first points of cultural erosion and social disorder is the erasure of a community’s history and culture. In my experience in women’s advocacy, I have also learned that incredible social change comes through the empowerment of women and the creation of safe spaces in which they can learn and grow.

I am doing my very small part to get fundraising kick-started for this very worthwhile cause and would appreciate your support of both my social justice and exercise efforts in the meantime.

Donors will receive social media shout-outs and other perks along the way.

Help spread the word!
IMAGE CREDIT: Artist Aaron Paquette – please visit his blog HERE and support local artists.

 

 

The latest annual report on life expectancy from Alberta Health was published earlier this week and the massive drop in the projected lifespan of Alberta’s indigenous people is startling. The report states that “in comparison to Alberta’s total population, the First Nations populations experience an infant mortality rate that is more than one and a half times higher, a suicide rate that is five to seven times higher, a higher rate of diabetes and significantly higher rates of arthritis, asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure.” While non-indigenous Albertans are expected to live to the ripe old age of 81.87 years, the indigenous life expectancy currently sits at only 70.36 years. That’s almost a dozen years less than everyone around them. A dozen less years to live, laugh and love in relative health like the rest of us.

It is critical to realize that these statistics are only an alarm bell sounding for the rest of us living next to or among our indigenous neighbours. These numbers do not tell First Nations stories: tragic stories of children lost prematurely, stories of loved ones lost to suicide and to the social isolation of addiction and mental illness. They do not tell of the loss of an entire way of life and the effect that this has had on a community’s eroded sense of self and access to healthy, life-giving foods and exercise.

The fact that these preventable tragedies are happening in different communities occupying the same geographic space is unacceptable, and it is not only the imperative of our government to take action: as a Muslim convert born in Alberta, I am not only religiously implored to treat my neighbours well, care for them and cooperate with them, I am also forbidden from harming them and allowing others to harm or neglect them as well. Islam teaches us that it is incumbent upon everyone to ensure that our neighbours do not go hungry as we eat our fill – no matter who those neighbours might be. And an extension of this is that we simultaneously cannot accept our own privileged access to health foods and services, while our brothers and sisters are neglected. Food bank usage among non-indigenous Albertans alone increased more than 23% between 2014 and 2015: if we are going to be a strong Alberta, we are our strongest together and this starts by helping protect our most vulnerable populations.

Empty stomachs and subpar nutrition have vast social consequences, particularly for communities that are already vulnerable through inherited historical trauma and continuing marginalization. The first question to enter one’s mind when faced with what Health Minister Sarah Hoffmann is calling “a troubling situation” should be: how can I help?

The most practical and immediate action you can take is to support local agencies that are trying to make change. Municipal food banks help serve indigenous peoples in cities while Alberta Food Banks is the provincial association of food banks with a mission to advance the vital role, capacity and voice of Alberta’s food banks through advocacy, educational and networking opportunities. While they have yet to form a similar initiative as the Regional Food Distribution Association (of Northwestern Ontario) which feeds indigenous communities specifically, there is no reason such a critical project could not be initiated here. And putting our dollars and donations where our mouths are helps such projects gain momentum. Further, while it is critical that the government of Alberta take action to improve access to health services, better infrastructure and healthier foods, we cannot forget that these people are our elected representatives. Contact your MLA to ensure they are doing everything they can to answer the call to action and are following through on partnerships with indigenous leaders to address the issue through purposeful action.

At the very least, raise awareness with the intention of taking action and remember that while these news stories and reports may fall off our radar within a couple of days on being shared on a newsfeed, these troubling statistics are life stories of the indigenous people around us: lives cut short, potential diminished, and injustice allowed to continue in our midst. I, for one, cannot accept that reality and neither should you.

Nakita Valerio is the owner and head writer for The Drawing Board.


Update: I have called the Alberta Food Banks to ask for an update on any projects that deliver to reserves specifically and will follow-up with how to donate or initiate such a project depending on their response.

October has been an exceptionally busy month for The Drawing Board owner and head writer, Nakita Valerio – especially after being appointed as the Director of Marketing for the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC). Given the highly central role that Muslims are embodying in the current Canadian election campaign, Nakita opted to speak out (along with other academics and other citizens across the country) against the enticement to hate being perpetuated by the current federal administration. The first publication was an Op-ed printed in the Edmonton Journal on October 8, 2015, entitled “Veil That Divides My Canada” (Online version). Nakita was also interviewed for CBC Radio for her opinion on the niqab issue being raised by the Conservative government and, finally, published a Question and Answer article in the Edmonton Sun on October 10, 2015 to answer questions about why women wear Islamic veils and how the country can move forward from this forced division.

As a direct result of these publications, Nakita has had the honour of being asked to deliver the following lectures:

  • to Native Studies students at the University of Alberta regarding the commonalities between Muslim and Indigenous communities, particularly as it regards their treatment by different forms of political and social authority
  • to Edmontonian High School students as part of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research’s Community Outreach initiative, regarding subjects on the Middle East in transition

Finally, Nakita was invited by a downtown Edmonton synagogue to start a womens’ dialogue group in their community for the purposes of starting conversations to learn and dispel Islamophobia.

Keep up to date on all of our activities here!