March is Women’s History Month (in the US)
I’m posting about women who are important and/or who have inspired me.
One of the insidious and vicious consequences of the Canadian government’s colonial history and crimes against humanity in its treatment of Aboriginal peoples is an inherited racism that seems insurmountable to eradicate. I think progress is being made. Slow, painful progress. But there is one area where progress can’t be made fast enough. Over the past 200 years, crimes against Aboriginal women have gone unreported.
According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), nearly 600 Aboriginal women and girls were identified through the “Sisters in Spirit” program as having gone missing or having been murdered in a five-year period (2005 – 2010)*. Other research by University of Ottawa PhD researcher Maryanne Pearce** puts that number over 800. For years, we have been told that the reason so many Aboriginal women and girls go missing is because of involvement in the sex trade. But I’d like to draw your attention to this paragraph in the Winnipeg Free Press story about Pearce’s findings (linked below):
Among her findings, Pearce found 80 per cent of missing or murdered aboriginal women were not in the sex trade. That’s despite the perception most cases involve prostitutes or women engaged in high-risk behaviour.
Even if the women being abducted, beaten, raped, and murdered WERE primarily involved in high-risk behaviour, does that mean what happens to them is OKAY? It’s all right to kidnap someone as long as they’re a junkie or a whore? Are we saying that it’s okay to beat or murder someone if they’re not from the right class of people? That poor people, addicts, criminals, and people ‘on the outside’ mean less? Are less important? That if you choose to or turn to life on the streets or a ‘high-risk lifestyle’, you’re basically inviting abuse, and you get what you ask for? Are we really saying that violence is okay as long as it’s not being perpetrated against someone who matters?
I hope to hell that’s not what we’re saying.
The activities of organizations like NWAC and Amnesty International Canada are pushing this issue out of the shadows. But it can’t address the problem fast enough. The Government of Canada has allocated a small amount of money to address violence against Aboriginal women. We need to step forward and make it a priority to stop this wound that won’t stop bleeding.
I have included the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in my country on this list because for every one of those abducted, abused women, I realize it could just as easily be me, if my skin and hair were a different shade. Each of those women could be my mother, my best friend, my auntie, my grandmother, my daughter. She could go missing in a heartbeat, and I may never know what happens to her.
Nearly a thousand women.
I think there is an unspoken/unacknowledged message that goes like this: Because my daughter/sister/mother/aunt/grandmother is not Aboriginal, I don’t need to worry about her going missing. Or if she does, it won’t be because she’s a prostitute or a junkie. I mean, I hope that sentiment isn’t there, but I suspect it is. And the reason I suspect that is because if non-Aboriginal women and girls were going missing at this rate (between 580-800 in five years), there would be a huge amount of attention on the issue. What’s my evidence for this hypothesis? When women were being attacked on campus in SK or in BC, law enforcement were ALL OVER IT. Community associations and campus security talked about nothing else. There was national media coverage on all of the networks. There weren’t 500 women affected, but boy howdy, did we know about it (and that’s good).
Look, I don’t want to get too preachy here. I don’t want to start or continue the debate about whether racism still exists in Canada (it totally does; that’s not even an arguable point) or whether different classes of people are treated differently by the legal system (they are). I don’t want to involve buzzwords like ‘privilege’ and ‘rape culture’; I think those are important things, but we use those words so much they begin to lose meaning.
What I want to do is to tell you that each of these women is an inspiration. Every single one of these women deserves your attention. Every single one of them has a name. A mother and a father. Every single one of them deserves your attention.
You know what I’d like to see? I’d like to see the face of every missing woman broadcast in every movie theatre in Canada, instead of those pre-show adverts. I’d like to see a montage of every one of them before and after every newscast. I’d like their names printed in every paper, the name of every missing woman from every community in Canada announced on the local radio stations. I’d like their names broadcast in every morning announcement in every school in the country.
Here is a Facebook page: The Families of Sisters in Spirit. Here is an article from The Tyee (September 2013) about the database the families of missing women have developed. Don’t be silent. “Families of missing and murdered women and girls are encouraged to contact No More Silence and Families of Sisters in Spirit if they would like to add loves ones’ names.” Help find these women. Also, this documentary by Craig Silliphant is worth a watch.
**Winnipeg Free Press article January 24, 2014 (includes a link to Pearce’s database)