Dawn Lavell-Harvard, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, attended the sixtieth session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which began March 14 and concludes on March 24, 2016 at UN headquarters in New York City.
On March 17, 2016, Lavell-Harvard joined an esteemed panel of Indigenous women for a special side-event sponsored by Canada entitled Indigenous Women and Girls: Pathways to Equality. The purpose of this side-event was to examine the underlying factors that contribute to Indigenous women and girls’ abuse, including the longstanding impacts of colonialism, racism and sexism.
“To be born Indigenous and female in a country like Canada means that we are born political,” stated Lavell-Harvard. “We recognize that Canada has the resources and the infrastructure now to lead the way in ending violence against Indigenous women and girls both domestically and internationally.
“Though decades of systemic oppression and abuse cannot be reversed overnight, the power of our women can wear away the strongest opposition if we are all united. Together, alongside our international partners, we will end violence against Indigenous women and girls.”
Lavell-Harvard’s fellow panelists for this event included Chandra Roy Henriksen, Chief of the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Betty Lyons, President and Executive Director of the American Indian Law Alliance, and Mirna Cunningham Kain, former Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This panel was moderated by Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Panelists spoke collectively to the ongoing need to provide holistic, Indigenous-led approaches to addressing the ongoing discrimination experienced by Indigenous women and girls, including violence and abuse.
Lavell-Harvard’s remarks explored the unique and complex plight of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, which, despite a new and promising government remains serious and demands action. Lavell-Harvard spoke to the grueling and multi-decade long grassroots effort on the part of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and other groups and individual activists from across Canada who worked tirelessly to draw the attention of the international community to the reality of missing and murdered Indigenous women –ultimately leading to the national inquiry, now underway.