Meggie Cywink is a MMIWGT2S+ family member from Whitefish River First Nation and advocate for MMIWGT2S+ families. Beverley Jacobs is a member of the Mohawk Nation, Bear Clan, a lawyer and an associate professor at the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law.
June 3 marked the one-year anniversary of the report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, with its call for a National Action Plan (NAP) to end violence against Indigenous women. This is not new: In 1993, the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women made a similar recommendation and, in 1970, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women highlighted discrimination against Indigenous women, prompting calls for another commission to examine violence against them, specifically.
The actions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government sadly reflect the words issued by his predecessor, Stephen Harper, who bluntly stated the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIWGT2S+) “isn’t really high on our radar.” Although Mr. Trudeau agreed with the inquiry’s findings that the crisis of MMIWGT2S+ in Canada constitutes a genocide – something that also had previously been documented and recognized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and by former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin – nothing has changed. Affected families and grassroots Indigenous women’s organizations have been met with yet another year of deafening silence from the federal government.
An action plan has long been necessary to address the relationship between Canada and policing agencies. Their failure to end targeted violence against Indigenous peoples has been strongly criticized by innumerable commissions: the Donald Marshall inquiry, Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, British Columbia’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, the Neil Stonechild inquiry, the Ipperwash Inquiry and the Viens Commission among them. International human-rights experts and organizations – including Amnesty International Canada, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Human Rights Watch – have highlighted this crisis against Indigenous women. In 2015, for the first time in Canada’s history of engagement with the UN, the CEDAW found that Canada committed a grave violation of Indigenous women’s rights, including the right to equal protection before the law and to an effective remedy.
And yet, there is no action plan. The federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett, announced last week that the NAP that had been expected today by the families of MMIWGT2S+ will be delayed, citing the COVID-19 crisis. Families and communities remain without necessary supports even after sharing their truths with the inquiry – at times at great personal cost, including retraumatization and victimization by the inquiry process. They rightly expect to be engaged by those planning the implementation of the 231 Calls for Justice. Instead, there continues to be murder and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls at an alarming and increasing rate.
The failure of any government to develop a plan of action amounts to the condoning of the disproportionate and continuing violence against Indigenous women and girls, which has historically been a primary means for the annihilation of Indigenous peoples, such that their land would become available for colonization and the Crown’s ambitions. The police remain a primary tool of enforcing colonial violence against Indigenous peoples, and government departments have been and continue to be agents for the colonization, assimilation and attempted erasure of Indigenous peoples.
It is clear from historical and contemporary examinations that structural change in government and policing will be necessary to halt the violence against Indigenous women and girls. Thus, it is imperative that affected MMIWGT2S+ families and supportive grassroots organizations led by Indigenous women play a leading role in developing a plan to end that violence. To date, the federal government has consulted with provincial and territorial governments, and the National Indigenous Organizations to develop the NAP. This neglects the people who hold the most direct and accurate information regarding the tragedy.
MMIWGT2S+ family members and Indigenous women’s grassroots organizations should be provided with the support and resources to lead the way. They have the answers to what is required and what they expect to hear. Providing us with the resources and the agency to make an immediate difference will ensure this tragedy is finally addressed so that we will not be forced to wait another 50 years for some kind of action.
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