Alana Robert is a Manitoba Métis anti-violence advocate. She is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School and is based in Toronto.
On the land, in classrooms, in boardrooms – wherever we choose to be is where every Indigenous woman and girl should be. Instead, I’ve watched as many of my sisters have been found dead, abandoned in rural ditches and left at the bottom of city rivers. This reality continues to persist one year after the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) released its final report, which symbolized the promise of a new era. It compiled evidence of the forces that target us and magnify our experiences of violence. It also provides a road map to address and transform these realities.
Upon the report’s release, resistance emerged for its classification of this crisis as genocide. Before Canadians had the opportunity to read and reflect on the report, many were already opposing its findings. I was taught that we were given two ears and one mouth – to listen twice as much as we speak. It is time for Canadians to listen and build relationships with Indigenous peoples based on our shared humanity.
A glance at the past year shows that the disappearances and killings of Indigenous women and girls, and the forces that fuel these realities, continue to flourish. This pattern has been seamless throughout the seasons.
Last summer, the RCMP apologized to the family of Amber Tuccaro – a 20-year-old mother from Mikisew Cree First Nation – after a report found that their investigation into her death in 2010 was “deficient.” Ms. Tuccaro’s family has shared that the RCMP did not take their concerns seriously after she was reported missing. Her evidence was also mishandled, causing some of it to be destroyed.
Later, the country watched national media coverage of two murder suspects on the run from British Columbia for a month. Advocates wondered why MMIWG have not been extended the same attention, urgency and resources. Not long after, Miranda Belle, a 31-year-old Manitoba Métis woman went missing. In October, Winnipeg police indicated that her disappearance was suspicious and potentially involved foul play.
Over the winter months, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs applied for judicial review of a permit granted to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, advancing that the decision ignored the final report’s finding that resource-extraction work camps are connected to violence against Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people in neighbouring communities.
A report was released by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, revealing that racialized policing continues in Canada’s north. Some women in Nunavut are reluctant to call the police due to prior negative interactions, or the manner in which police had responded to their previous reports of violence.
Meanwhile, Manitoba announced in January it would end birth alerts, which work to apprehend newborns from “high-risk” mothers while in hospital. The province has since delayed this promise, citing COVID-19. Indigenous children account for 52.2 per cent of those in foster care in Canada, yet only comprise 7.7 per cent of the population of Canadian children.
The case of Cindy Gladue – a Cree and Métis mother from Alberta, who died in 2011 from an 11-centimetre wound in her vaginal wall – continues to make its way through the court system. Her previous trial was tainted with racism and sexism, with lawyers for the Crown and the accused referring to Ms. Gladue as a “native woman” and a “prostitute,” and dehumanizing her by bringing her vaginal tissue into court.
In April, 16-year-old Eishia Hudson was shot and killed by Winnipeg police. The case is currently under investigation.
COVID-19 has posed a heightened risk to Indigenous women and girls, as some reside in remote communities that lack health services, and others are isolated at home with their abusers. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has reported an increase in the number of Indigenous women experiencing violence, with one in five having faced a violent incident over the past three months.
The trend of violence against Indigenous women continues, regardless of the season. Many are desensitized, as the reality of MMIWG has become normalized. But we should be horrified by each of these stories. Indigenous women and girls are not disposable. Each of these deaths and disappearances represents the life and spirit of a human being who was gifted and loved. We must recognize this reality to transform it. Without action, we will be complacent in genocide, only enabling it to continue. We will be depriving Indigenous women and girls from reaching their full potential.
The final report details several “Calls for Justice" that should be embraced by every Canadian: Confront ignorance and speak out against violence – in all of its forms – as it unfolds. Deconstruct the barriers that perpetuate violence and become an ally to Indigenous peoples unconditionally. Promote the safety of Indigenous peoples and the right to self-determination.
Read the final report, and genuinely engage with its calls. Learn about the history between settlers and Indigenous people and recognize the land that you live on. Create time and space for relationships with Indigenous people and embrace differences with love and respect. Hold government institutions accountable.
Canada has taken some actions, but not enough to redefine the outcomes for many Indigenous women and girls.
These calls are simple, but their impacts are extraordinary. We must embrace and live them to create a country where we can all live freely and fully. Until we take these actions meaningfully, Indigenous women and girls will continue to ask: Am I next?
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