A call to action for missing and murdered Aboriginal women

Harper’s “new” Conservatives don’t come across as being the type of Progressive Conservatives that once ruled this nation. In fact this type of governance is something Canadians might expect if one of the two political parties the Prime Minister once purported to represent, the Alliance and Reform, were in power. But under those banners, national votes were almost impossible to obtain. Promises made are debts unpaid and this federal government owes much more than it has ever paid, unless of course we count the lip-service it pays regularly to mainstream media as it tries to convince Canadians that their best interests are being served. In what appears to be a continuing effort to marginalize and assimilate Aboriginal peoples, Canada’s federal government continues to quash funding for Aboriginal causes, introduce new legislation and bills that strip important treaty rights, put third-party managers into First Nations that can manage their own finances, deny Colonialism, ignore United Nations declarations and approve environmentally dangerous oil industry plans to expand no matter what the cost to Aboriginal peoples and Canadians as a whole. Take the case of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada as one of the many examples of how Ottawa shrugs off important issues that need to be dealt with in a timely and meaningful way. Regional, provincial, national and global calls for an inquiry into the plight of Aboriginal women have gone unheeded. Church groups, the Assembly of First Nations, various women’s organizations, dozens of local and regional groups, the Human Rights Watch, even the United Nations have either called for or suggested that a national inquiry would help to answer the questions that need to be answered.

“I remain very skeptical of commission’s of inquiry generally,” Harper is quoted as saying to CBC last year. “My experience has been they almost always run way over time, way over budget, and often the recommendations prove to be of limited utility.”

There goes that “I” word again – the trouble is that “we” want answers to this and other questions and when the subject involves somewhere between 600 and several thousand missing and murdered Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal girls and women, the urgency and necessity for such inquiries is as plain as the nose on your face. So why, you might ask yourself, did the Harper government pull the plug on Native women’s data collection last year? The answer is likely quite simply that Harper’s Conservatives, like the Reform and Alliance, have no Aboriginal platform – and if they do they didn’t mention it once during either of the last two federal elections.

The fact that Ottawa has no interest in pursuing the truth via a national inquiry, has little to do with the “time” or the “budget.” Ottawa spends money like it’s going out of style, ditto for Alberta Premier Allison Redford and for the cheaters and liars and thieves that have been bounced from Parliament Hill these past two years for ripping Canadians off and taking advantage of every financial loophole the government has to offer, and there’s plenty of them.

The truth is simply that the thinking in Ottawa is that Indigenous Canadians are second-class citizens who make too much noise, create too much flack and expect to have their treaties honoured – forever. Maybe, just maybe, if enough noise is made, if enough people become involved, if enough demands are made by citizens of all cultures, creeds and colours, Canadians will force this government to ease up on the thumb and allow progress to take place. Maybe the newest body count of missing and murdered Aboriginal women will make a difference. There’s a long list of people and groups numbers that hope so.

This month, like every February, Canadians will celebrate with flowers and dinners and gifts of love as Valentine’s Day hearts remind us how special our women are. And this month, like every February, Aboriginal women, their families, friends and supporters will rally across the nation to remember the mothers and daughters and nieces and friends and relatives they lost to murder, to those that have gone missing and have never been heard from again. The numbers of Aboriginal women that have gone missing or have been found murdered in Canada over the last thirty years has changed so many times during the past two decades that it’s hard to keep up. And this year, there is a new number. Before Ottawa decided to put a stop on Native women’s data collection

in 2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit project had documented 582 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women dating back to about 1990. A new report released last month by independent researcher, Maryanne Pearce, indicate that those numbers are incorrect. Pearce has the number at 824 – but even more shocking is the fact that she’s uncovered, via a thorough research of such sources as public police files, missing person posters, news articles, websites and more, that the actual number of missing and murdered women in Canada is closer to 3,330, most of which date from 1990 to 2013.

According to sources such as the Winnipeg Free Press, Huff Post, rabble.ca and others that reported on Pearce’s findings, women are much more vulnerable to violent predators if they are addicted, homeless, mentally ill, involved in the sex trade or involved in the child welfare system. She also found that of the 3,329 cases she uncovered, 24.8 percent are Aboriginal women, even though they make up less than two per cent of the general population.

Pearce says Canada needs to step up to the plate, noting that “action and information” is better than inquiries. Canada, she noted has delayed for too long in setting up a national DNA database for missing persons and unidentified human remains. She also noted that Canada’s police forces need to work closer together and share more information with the public. That thought falls in line with those of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, the Assembly of First Nations and others who are calling on the RCMP to dig deeper and work longer to get to the bottom of what is happening in Canada when it comes to violence against Indigenous women.

In the meantime, the world will watch as they have since the annual march first began in 1991, as the families and friends and supporters of missing and murdered Aboriginal women trudge through the streets of city’s from coast-to-coast to honour those that Canada continues to ignore.

 by John Copley

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