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 the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Thank you so much for having me today. And thank you everyone for being here. I would like to reiterate that we are situated on Treaty 6 territory and that these are the traditional lands of Indigenous people who have lived, gathered and passed through here for many thousands of years. They are still here and it is on you to insure that that is forever the case.

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I also want to acknowledge that I am a white, cis woman, the child of Italian immigrants to this land, and the mother of a beautiful, Arab girl, a convert to Islam and all those things are combined, I am afforded certain privileges and I pray that I am using these to the advantage of every person, people of every gender, orientation, religion, ethnicity, ability and anything else we use to identify ourselves.

I came here today to inform you that the day you were born was not the day you came out of your mother’s womb. The day you were born was the first time you witnessed injustice and you decided to take a stand. Deep down inside you, alarms bells started ringing and a call resounded through the center of your being. A call to take action, a call to stand up and use your voice to say, “No, hatred will not live here, Oppression will not be tolerated, injustice will not be served today.”

The day you heard that call may have been November 8th, when the one who shall remain unnamed was legitimized in his hatred and misogyny, and propelled to the highest institution of the most powerful nation in the world. And we will oppose him. And all echoes of him at home.

That day might have been before. It might have been after. The day you hear that call might be today, right now.

For it is a call I am issuing. This is not a call to silent prayer but a call to submission of the ego in the service of others, even if those others are a future self in need of your present compassion. It is a call of recognizing that any of us could be oppressor or oppressed and that many of us are both, and we’re standing on a fine line and you are choosing dignity, respect and compassion that every single one of us has earned by virtue of our existence.

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It is a call to make space for one another, to take space when it is not yielded, to recognize that we create the worlds we live in, and that hatred and love take effort of an equal measure. The day you were born was the first time you saw hatred in action and you chose Love.

Fierce love. Love that dismantles and is disobedient. Enraged love. Disappointed love. Grieving Love. Love that refuses to accept anything less than solidarity, anything less than taking care of one another.

Taking care of one another does not only mean fixing dinners and giving shoulders to cry on – though those things are important. No, taking care means a commitment to the idea that, even if I have never met you, I love you and I respect your right to a life of dignity and hope, a life of self-actualized growth and I will fight for you.

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I do not accept that black, brown, Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish people with varying orientations and degrees of ability are made the collateral damage in the bulldozing path of a historical lie spun incessantly about racial and social superiority, while those who spin it hold our planet, our children, our wealth, our future, our collective soul hostage. I do not accept how they divide us. I do not accept that our trauma and violence are painted as intrinsic to who we are, while they cover their colonization in the fog of words, in a war of semantics, in imperial programming. I refuse to normalize their hatred.

The day you were born was the first moment you witnessed power in action and you said no to it. Where you traced its institutions, its circulatory system, feeding life into those who designed it and relegating the rest of us to despondency and despair. You deserve better than a life of despair.

Answering the call is a commitment to replacing despair with kindness, even when kindness means blocking roads and lobbying governments. Especially when it means that.

So I want to ask all of you and please let me hear a beautiful Yes:

Do you hear the call?

Do you hear the call today?

We are not here to feel good about ourselves. We celebrate who we are and we resist in our joy but we are not here to joke around about what is happening south of the border, around the world, in our own backyard, in our families. We are here to make a public declaration to do better and to stop those who won’t.

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The work does not end here, it starts right now.

I want you to turn to the person next to you, put your hand over your heart, look them straight in the eye and face their humanity. Thank them for being here today. Thank them for taking a stand and answering the call of Justice.

Repeat after me:

I am here for you.

I will always be here for you.

I will defend you.

I will use my voice

In the face of your oppression.

I will work for justice.

I hear the call.

And I answer it.

Very good.

Hear this call today, everyone, I am holding you accountable Let it echo every day in every action you take.

It is history calling, wondering what side you will be on.

It is our duty to memory, wondering how selective you will be.

And it is the scales of justice calling, wondering what your balance look like.

All our lives hang in the fold.

Thank you.


Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

Photography: Lindsey Catherine Photos & Media

Video: Radical Citizen Media

The Drawing Board is pleased to announce that our very own writer and researcher, Liz Hill, has been awarded the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship for her work in History. The award is funded by Field Law via the Edmonton Community Foundation and the Calgary Foundation in honour of the legal victory won by Leilani Muir and victims of sterilization. It is awarded to a graduate student in Sociology, Psychology, or History and Classics who demonstrates research promise. Preference is given to students whose research interests are related to the areas of human rights, persons with disabilities, or social well-being. Join us in celebrating Liz’s success!

lizLiz’s thesis research deals with the subjects of madness and leprosy in the late Middle Ages. Entitled “Roots of Persecution: Madness and Leprosy in the late Middle Ages,” Liz’s thesis addresses the conceptual underpinnings of persecution by comparing medieval intellectual and moral understandings of madness and leprosy to the social treatment of lepers and mad people in the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. She focuses in particular on the collective social identity and treatment of the leper in contrast to the individualized identities and treatment of mad people, and how that difference explains the periodic persecutory violence to which lepers were subjected, but not mad people.

13418%20-%20human-rights-1In Mohammed Ayoob’s chapter on “Making Sense of Global Tensions” in Towards the Dignity of Difference? Neither End of History nor Clash of Civilizations, the author offers a structural theory of international relations that defines nations as either subaltern or hegemonic, depending on their level of development, nationhood and a number of other definitive variables. This model is meant to offer understanding about a number of tense issues in the Middle East, including the Israeli occupation of Palestine, problems surrounding nuclear proliferation and disenchantment or ineffectiveness of humanitarian intervention efforts. Ayoob points out that the development of the states and building the nation in Western powers occurred over a much longer period without the international pressure of human rights and justice normativity imposed on them. This is unlike the modern subaltern states which must compress these processes into a shorter period of time while complying with stringent international law that threatens its sovereignty and thus progress at any time. This historical divide, as well as a division in current priorities between the two groups, has two results: the potential loss of autonomy for struggling subaltern states and, by extension, their very statehood, and secondly, a deep chasm in perspectives between those in the periphery and the core which continuously hampers negotiations and mutual understanding. In this paper, I will look at two examples provided by Ayoob –Iran and the bomb, and the state of Israel – to see how well this model applies, as well as touching on some situations that are perhaps not as well explained by this theory. In the end, no theory is perfect, but by looking at its drawbacks, we might better be able to see its value.

In terms of the issue of nuclear proliferation, nowhere is it so hotly debated as in the question of whether or not Iran should have nuclear development, or the bomb. Ayoob notes that the divide in the debate falls along the subaltern-hegemonic divide as there is “more than an undercurrent of sympathy for Iran amongst the developing countries…” especially in the face of Western hypocrisy about Israel’s possession of the bomb and suspicion over the “real” motives of American policymakers after the doublespeak by the Obama administration over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissle Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). (Ayoob 416-17) In fact, throughout his argument, Ayoob notes that the main issue surrounding subaltern-hegemonic cooperation is the apparent hypocrisy of Western powers in dealing with such issues – preferring to support their interests, rather than universally applicable principles. In fact, these loyalties go so far as to hamper the achievement of the West’s lofty, liberal goals by clouding Western vision about realities surrounding Iran getting the bomb: that it would actually lead to nuclear balancing, stability and likely peace in the Middle East, at least tenuously. (Waltz, 2012)

The same argument is made about the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine, largely upheld by the West, including the fact that Israel (hypocritically) has the bomb, and that Western powers preaching the importance of universal humanitarian intervention, failed to do so numerous times in the case of Gaza – most recently in the summer of 2014. A reciprocal continued distrust between the Western hegemonies like the US and subaltern countries effectively halts any consensus on these crucial issues. To a certain degree, Ayoob argues that this is due to opposing priorities between the two groups, namely that of domestic/international order versus domestic/international justice. (see Ayoob 408-10)

As provocative and appealing as this construct is, does it explain other, equally important, issues in international politics as it pertains to the Middle East? In an article looking at the geostrategic significance of the Arab Spring, Ayoob notes that Saudi Arabia, in the post-Revolution period, is unlikely to exert any regional influence because of its place as an American ally, its poor organization and its overreliance on cash to effect change (Ayoob 89). However, I think that Ayoob underestimates the power of Saudi Arabia in effecting international economies and thereby effecting geopolitics because of its vast share of oil reserves and centrality in the world economy. Whether they accomplish this on their own or at the behest of their American allies is not relevant. It is likely, however, that in the subaltern/hegemonic model, that developing nations will see KSA as a patsy for its allies, a tool in the hypocritical hegemonic machine.

Additionally, there are a few areas that this model perhaps does not illuminate very well. Intra-hegemonic arguments are not found in this paradigm – most notably in the division between America and Israel over the continued and increased illegal settlements of Palestinian territories and over the Iran nuclear situation. Additionally, inter-hegemonic disputes can alter international diplomacy and actions of core powers – particularly when facing public pressure back home and particularly when that public pressure is increasingly sympathetic to subaltern issues such as national sovereignty or indirect support of autonomy through non-interventionist sentiments. Significant internal demographic shifts tend to be lost in a state-structuralist model. Though Ayoob alludes to the global tensions precipitating an increase in terrorism as grassroots extremism gains more popularity from increasing disefranchised and suspicious subaltern populations, his chapter predates the incredible successes of the ultra-extremist terrorist group, ISIS. As a non-nation entity that is gaining vast territories, resources and increased influence, it is not completely clear where they fit in the subaltern-hegemonic model: are they a byproduct of global disparity and tensions? Are they an example of Ayoob’s messy nation-building historical model? Are their atrocities the price a future, genuine Islamic State will pay for distinct nationhood? I highly doubt that Ayoob intended the endpoint of his argument or model to be a condonation of actions from groups like ISIS, but it’s hard not to read it that way particularly when he notes horrific atrocities such as indigenous population genocides, slavery and racism, and the Nazi Holocaust as part of the “very strong illiberal and un-secular beginnings” of today’s modern, Western and secular states. (412) His deterministic outlook, coupled with an emphasis placed on the way modern human rights models hinder nation-building would set off red flags in most peoples’ minds, particularly in the age of ISIS. Where Ayoob might redeem himself, is in his hope for the reforming of the UN Security Council into a more equitable and more effective “Humanitarian Council” – something even he admits might be too optimistic but seems like the only viable option for honest international relations and the genuine protection of human rights going forward. (415)

To conclude, what can be learned from this model of international relations: the Subaltern and Hegemonic model? For starters, it gives students of international relations some insight into why perspectives tend to be similar among states at similar stages of development. It might also lend some insight into their tendency towards specific priorities over those of the hegemonic powers. Like any theory, it cannot account for all phenomena that might run contradictory to it or might exist outside of this paradigm: inter and intra-stratum conflict or disputes, as well as the increasing influence of non-state forces like ISIS which force subaltern or hegemonic powers to cooperate (or at least communicate the idea of cooperation), even when ultimately suspicious of one another because of differing stratum positioning. Ultimately, it is a realist-esque approach that holds hope for liberal ideologies, as long as honesty and equitable dialogue are at the forefront of international relations, rather than state or regional interests. Whether or not this hope is futile is another story.

Sources Referenced/ Cited

Mohammed Ayoob, “Making sense of global tensions: dominant and subaltern conceptions of order and justice in the international system,” in M. Mahdavi and A. Knight, eds. Towards the Dignity of Difference? Neither End of History nor Clash of Civilizations (Ashgate, 2012), 407-18.

Mohammed Ayoob, “The Arab Spring: its Geostrategic Significance,” Middle East Policy, Vol. XIX, No. 3, Fall 2012, pp. 84-97.

Kenneth N. Waltz, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: nuclear balancing would mean stability” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2012.