Aboriginal Women's Groups Hopeful for Change Upon Election Results
by Julia Jenne
October 22, 2015 | News
With election campaigning taking place over the past few weeks, this October has heard many aboriginal voices demanding solutions to the issues faced by Native communities both on and off reserves. On October 4th, several hundred marchers gathered at Atwater and Sainte Catherine, urging running parties to make an election issue of the 1,200 documented cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. The Liberal, NDP and Green parties have all promised to call an investigation if elected. For the many people dissatisfied with the Conservatives’ stance on the issue, Trudeau’s victory could not have come soon enough.
Earlier this month, former Conservative leader Stephen Harper was criticized for restating his refusal to launch a federal inquiry into aboriginal women’s overrepresentation among Canada’s missing and murdered women. Drawing on statistics published by the RCMP in 2014 that showed little discrepancy between aboriginal and non-aboriginal murder investigations, Harper maintained that “most of these murders, sad as they are, are in fact solved.”
Instead of launching a federal investigation, a re-elected Conservative government would take prevention measures “to deal with the problems of violence against people generally, violence against women in particular,” and ensure that abusers faced the appropriate punishment.
Harper failed to shed light on the fact that although close to 90% of aboriginal murder cases have been solved—the same statistic as with non-aboriginal women— First Nations, Metis and Inuit women are five times more likely to die under violent circumstances than their non-aboriginal counterparts.
Craig Benjamin, campaigner for the human rights of indigenous peoples at Amnesty International Canada, said that this kind of violence “has multiple causes and … does in fact have deep roots in our society and in the relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.” Attributing the issue to oversimplified explanations such as domestic violence is insufficient, and harsher consequences for offenders will not change the deep-set social issues relating to the exclusion of Native people from Canadian society.
Harper’s plan to strengthen law enforcement isn’t enough, many believe.
At the march and vigil that took place in downtown Montreal earlier this month, many expressed dissatisfaction with the way the government handles these issues. “The police are slow to react when a native girl goes missing, social services are not adapted to the needs of the community, there is systemic racism,” said Emmanuelle Walter, the author of Stolen Sisters, a book about two indigenous teens from Western Quebec who have been missing since 2008. “If the Conservatives are re-elected it will be catastrophic for indigenous women.”
Though Harper said it is “past the time” to launch a national inquiry, the issue remains. It was just over a year ago that the remains of Tina Fontaine, a fifteen year old girl from Winnipeg, were found in a bag in Manitoba’s Red River. Since then, four indigenous women have been killed in Winnipeg. Nationwide, 255 were killed in 2014 alone.
Aboriginal activists have garnered support from all across Canada. Early this month, Metis artist Jaime Black asked people to hang red dressesoutside their homes, in public places and wear them for the day to serve as a reminder of the women who are no longer with us. Many communities across the country showed their solidarity with striking, eerie tributes.
It is clear through demonstrations like this one that Canada’s public is on board to bring change to aboriginal women. Now, it’s the government’s turn to step forward.
Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, said, “We’re hoping for a government that will work with us in addressing this.”
Justin Trudeau’s election this Monday brings a stronger sense of hope to advocates like Maloney; he is known for his progressive views on Native rights. At a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, the prime minister designate said that “we’re going to move forward on this [national inquiry] quickly” — hopefully before another tragedy happens.