1,200 Aboriginal Women in Canada Murdered or Gone Missing Since 1980s

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Aboriginal women are five times more likely to be murdered, and most attacks are from outside their communities, says Audrey Huntley of the No More Silence campaign in Canada

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Indigenous women are disproportionately going missing and being murdered at a much higher rate than other women in Canada. Saturday, February 14, marks the 10th Annual Strawberry Ceremony for missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. There will be events held throughout Canada commemorating the losses. And according to RCMP reports released in the spring of 2014, 1,017 aboriginal women and girls were murdered and/or went missing in Canada between 1980 and 2012. But the actual numbers may be much higher due to gaps in police and government reporting.

Joining us now from Toronto to discuss the issue around it is Audrey Huntley. Huntley is a community researcher, documentary filmmaker, and cofounder of No More Silence.

Audrey, I want to thank you for joining us today.

AUDREY HUNTLEY, COFOUNDER, NO MORE SILENCE: Thanks for having me.

PERIES: Audrey, according to RCMP statistics released in 2014, indigenous women are four times more likely to be murdered than non-indigenous women. Why are these rates so much higher among indigenous women?

HUNTLEY: I believe the correct stat is five times more likely. Indigenous women have been murdered at high rates since the beginning of contact, since settlers started coming to this land, basically because we are the centers of our community, along with our children. So the way to get to this land was through indigenous women. Canada has basically been founded over the bodies of indigenous women.

PERIES: Right. So I understand that, that there’s a great deal of embodiment of all sorts of things that are going on in the community on aboriginal women.

Now, the attacks on aboriginal women is coming from, I assume, from within the community or from outside the community?

HUNTLEY: Well, that’s the point that I was hoping to make, that indigenous women are actually killed by strangers at much higher rates than–most women, as you know, are killed by people they know, whereas indigenous women, yes, they are also killed by people they know, but they’re also killed at much higher rates by strangers. So this has to do with racism. It’s basically got to do with that, racism and the land. So it’s about getting to the land. And racism is pretty much the justification.

I guess it’s important to talk about impunity as well, because that is one of the focuses of No More Silence’s work. I mean, perpetrators, I believe, know that there’s a difference if a woman from Rosedale, say, a rich white neighborhood, goes missing, or a woman from, perhaps, say, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where a killing spree was allowed to go on for years, because police just simply did not value those women. So it’s about who gets valued in this society and who doesn’t.

PERIES: One of the things that the Amnesty International and the communities are calling for is sort of–is a federal inquiry into the disappearances and assault of aboriginal women. What is the status of that?

HUNTLEY: The government has rejected these calls for an inquiry. Harper has basically said that the murders are crimes and not a sociological phenomenon. That has been widely refuted. I’m actually in [incompr.] legal services I sit on a legal research strategy coalition, which is made up–it’s a national ad hoc coalition made up of women’s organizations, lawyers. Actually, the Native Women’s Association of Canada is also on that. And we support the demand for an inquiry. But we qualify what kind of inquiry that would be, because we’ve seen–for example, the B.C. missing women’s inquiry had some very good recommendations, but none of those recommendations [incompr.] to date.

The legal research strategy coalition that I was speaking about is releasing a report next week to coincide with preparations for the round table. The government has not agreed to an inquiry, but has agreed to hold a national roundtable, which will be on February 27. And we’ve actually looked at the research that’s been done on this to date. There have been over 50 reports with 700 recommendations and very, very few of those recommendations have been implemented at all. So groups like no more silence, other grassroots groups, we don’t look to an inquiry as a solution, because we don’t think that it is actually in the states’ interest to stop this violence. So we’re looking at grassroots initiatives like the Starts With Us project, which I’m a part of, where we’re doing our own community-led database.

PERIES: Okay. So we know about Canadian government inquiries. They examined what–if the problem exists when we have plenty of evidence that the problem exists, and then make some recommendations, which hardly ever gets implemented. So what you’re deriving, to me, sounds like a great strategy. Can you give us some highlights of the kinds of recommendations you’re calling for?

HUNTLEY: We’re not calling for recommendations. We’re actually doing the work ourselves on the ground. We started a community-led database. We’ve been researching Ontario for the past two years. We have researched 100 cases that we’re entering into our database.

Another component of the project is a tribute section, where family members have the opportunity to create tribute pages to their loved ones. And we found that that work is really empowering in terms of the healing process that families are then able to go through, because something that isn’t talked about very much as the impact that this has on family members. And the impact is devastating, because it’s not only the loss of the grief around losing a loved one to a horrible death, to a murder, but it’s also the societal indifference. It’s also the racism that family members encounter when they do try to get help from the police. So the feedback that we have been getting is that the tributes are really, really important, because it allows the family members to actually tell the stories of who the women were, whereas the media often just focuses on the grisly details of their death and not that they actually were mothers or daughters or sisters or aunties and, you know, what color they liked or what their favorite food was, those kind of things.

Of course, another problem that I see [snip] or not or should there be an inquiry or action, and I don’t see why there can’t be both. I think (A) the inquiries should be led by family members and we should–family members and indigenous women doing the work on the ground should determine what actually inquiry is going to investigate. And I know from family members that what they want is they want their cases solved, they want the police to make transparent their investigations and to show what they have done. And they want to continue to have those investigations be open and to be investigated. They want answers to who killed their daughters and their sisters and their mothers and their aunties.

At the same time, we could be creating shelters on reserve where there aren’t any, or more in the cities where we don’t have enough. In Toronto, on the International Day to End Violence on November 25, I believe five or six women were arrested for doing a sit-in demanding more shelter spaces for women in the city because there aren’t enough. And we’ve had four homeless deaths already this year.

We also need just to make employment more accessible to indigenous women. We need to engage with the broader community about the racism that indigenous people face every day in their lives. So it shouldn’t be an inquiry or not. It should be both an inquiry and action.

PERIES: And let’s follow this thread in terms of the systemic racism that aboriginal women and aboriginal community faces to this day. What can you come up with in terms of strategies you think that would address this particular problem?

HUNTLEY: Well, we could start with educating people about the history of the founding of this country. There’s many people who don’t even know about the residential schools, never mind know that perhaps over 5,000 children–we don’t know those stats either–died or killed in those schools. So, yeah, we need to make this part of kids’ schooling as they’re growing up.

And I do think we also need to be talking to men and boys more about their understanding of and how to better relate to girls and women.

PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us today and shedding some light on what’s going on in the aboriginal community, and hope you join us again and keep us informed as to if it’s making any progress.

HUNTLEY: Thanks for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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