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.

 

 

This article was written by Nakita Valerio and originally published here.

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day (IWD), and many Canadians are celebrating what we believe to be achievements made by women, and the gains made for gender equality, in our country.

It is also a moment for us to remember heroines like the Famous Five Alberta women, whose petition to the Supreme Court of Canada led to women being legally considered “persons.” However, in the midst of our celebration, it is easy to forget that a notion of “inclusive” gender equality, embracing many different demographics of women in our communities including veiled Muslim women, indigenous women, women of colour, and others on the margins, remains an important and necessary goal.

It is easy to forget that it was one of the Famous Five, Emily Murphy, who remarked about Chinese Canadians: “We do not understand these people from the Orient, nor what ideas are hid behind their dark inscrutable faces.”

Divisive debate still triggered by what Muslim women wear

IWD is marked differently around the world. However, as we are celebrating, it shows how much further we have to go. It calls attention to the fact that the question of what a Muslim woman wears (whether the hijab, niqab or burka) still generates such furious, divisive debate among Canadians.

Nakita Valerio

Just last month, a woman wearing a burka was refused service at a North Edmonton business, rallying support and condemnation from both sides of the public debate. It was only recently that the federal government launched an official inquiry into the status of missing and murdered indigenous women.

IWD accentuates the fact that equality for women in this country is still heavily tied to the individual’s background, religious, racial, or otherwise.

Additionally, this inequity is highlighted this year as Women’s Day coincides with celebrations of Alberta’s 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, when Alberta joined Manitoba and Saskatchewan as the first provinces to allow women the right to vote in provincial elections.

Unequal women’s rights

While an important move in the history of the province, such an anniversary further reminds us of the unequal distribution of women’s rights because suffrage was applied unevenly at the provincial and federal levels.

The suffrage provisions of 1916 did not include Japanese and Chinese women who weren’t legally franchised until 1948, nor did it include indigenous peoples, whose suffrage also came unevenly across the country and who weren’t fully franchised until 1960.

I argue that some of the rhetoric surrounding IWD, and other events that are not necessarily promoting a brand of “intersectional” or inclusive feminism, depends on a particular vision of liberation that does not recognize a woman’s own voice.

Nowhere has this been more prevalent that in debates around whether or not head coverings are intrinsically oppressive or liberating, which continue to plague Canadian women of all backgrounds including Muslims, Sikhs and South Asians.

New feminism is based on the understanding that there is nothing inherently liberating about one expression over another. Rather, the liberation is in a woman’s choice and part of modern gender equality rests on the acceptance of diverse womanhood on her own terms, regardless of one’s background.

Edmonton hosts ongoing women’s interfaith discussions

Edmonton, thankfully, is a host to ongoing women’s interfaith conversation groups, Muslim-indigenous education workshops, and public school lectures on the status of women and veiling in Islam.

We are also lucky to have Metro Cinema’s three-night film festival titled, You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, starting March 8, hosted here in Edmonton and supportive of dozens of local female artists and women’s social justice organizations in the city.

Indeed, local advocacy groups have taken to creating spaces that are safe and welcoming for women of all backgrounds. One such group, the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, views the day as an opportunity to engage in critical dialogue with women across the province.

Ultimately, the critique of International Women’s Day serves to unify the mandate of groups who attempt to celebrate the diversity of women on their own terms and to continue to sound the call for a new, inclusive feminism to take hold everywhere.

Nakita Valerio is pursuing graduate studies in Jewish-Islamic studies (history) at the University of Alberta. She was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s 2015 Top 30 Under 30 and was awarded the QEII scholarship for graduate students. She is also director of public policy with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.