For decades, Indigenous women and girls went missing across the country, and their mothers, grandmothers and sisters demanded answers. In 2006, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) started the Sisters in Spirit database, proving that over 1,000 Indigenous women had gone missing.
“Police and government officials hadn’t been listening until women came out,” says NWAC president Francyne Joe. “That’s when the government agreed that this was a national issue and took it to the police.”
This June, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will present its report to government, and Ms. Joe is looking forward to reading it and providing input on action items.
“The report has to make a significant difference in protecting Indigenous women, girls and members of the LGBTQ community who have been subject to violence and abuse,” she says. “And they need to be involved in designing, implementing and leading the resulting programs, policies and services to ensure a positive impact.”
Ms. Joe calls for co-ordinated support at all levels of government and across the country, “so that women and girls can feel safe, no matter what province or territory they are in,” she says. “We also need to ensure that no Indigenous person feels disrespected or discriminated against when they report abuse or violence.”
When women are involved in decision-making and in developing programs and policies for communities, the outcomes benefit everyone, says Ms. Joe, who adds that the NWAC engages with issues such as “the environment, health care, child poverty, violence against women and women in business.”
Unfortunately, women are still left out of many discussions. Although Ms. Joe attended the opening of the UNESCO Year of Indigenous Languages in Paris earlier this year, her office wasn’t included in drafting a national First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages legislation, which involved efforts of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis Nation, she says.
Since the legislation impacts language preservation, promotion and revitalization, Ms. Joe believes Indigenous women should have a voice. “The first persons teaching our children language are typically women: mothers, grandmothers, sisters or caregivers.”
From her experience as member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, Ms. Joe believes women have traditionally played an important role in guiding decision-making in communities. “If the women felt strongly about decisions, the chiefs would listen. It’s the women who have kept the community together and passed on the history from generation to generation,” she says. “I’d like to see more Indigenous women become leaders in politics on the local, regional and national levels.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.