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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.