The phenomenon of missing and murdered aboriginal women is more than just a series of individual crimes, many dating back decades. It is also a testament to the social problems that continue to disproportionately afflict Canada's First Nations .
That's why, if the inquiry launched this week by the Trudeau government is to be of any lasting value, the five-person panel must be able to examine the sociological issues underlying the murders and disappearances honestly and freely, without limiting their range or falling back on the easy and unproductive rhetoric of blame.
However, to judge from the jargon-filled language employed at the inquiry's inception, there's a risk that it will avoid the hard task of finding urgent, practical solutions to the overwhelming problems facing native Canada, which are the underlying reason why too many native women – and far more native men – end up as crime statistics. Blaming Ottawa, assailing history, invoking colonialism – however satisfying such exercises may be, however synonymous they have become with pat notions of healing and reconciliation, they do not address the problems of the present, and they do not offer solutions for a better future. Generic expressions of guilt and depersonalized apologies may be purgative, but they don't create employment, improve health care or provide higher education – all areas where the conditions of First Nations communities must be improved if the disturbing levels of violence are to be reduced.
Violence against aboriginal women cannot be separated from the context of violence against all aboriginals – a native man is three times as likely to be murdered as a native woman, and both are far more likely to be killed than other Canadians. Native Canadians are more likely to be victims of crime, or to end up in prison for having committed a crime. Incomes are lower. Unemployment is higher. And the education system is failing: in 2011, 58 per cent of young aboriginal adults living on reserve had not graduated from high school. For anyone honestly concerned about root causes of violence, it should be clear that simple gender-based arguments and solutions are likely to be partial at best.
The fate of missing and murdered indigenous women cannot be considered in isolation. To reduce violence and increase their safety, it will be necessary to improve the lives and livelihood of all native Canadians. The inquiry needs open minds, and open eyes.