It began with comments from Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt. Once again a government minister has spoken out of turn, and according to First Nations across Canada, Valcourt did it in a way that is “demeaning, blaming and condescending.”
Valcourt, in what seems to be little more than an attempt to stymie Aboriginal and other Canadians seeking a national inquiry into murdered and missing women, told media that 70 percent of murdered Aboriginal women in Canada died at the hands of Aboriginal men.
To make matter worse RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson backed the minister’s comments by declaring that they had come up with the 70 percent figure via “consolidated data” from about 300 placing agencies across the country.
In an Edmonton press conference Treaty 6 Grand Chief Bernice Martial said her organization is calling for “an independent investigator to collect all information and data of missing and murdered Indigenous women held by Statistics Canada and the RCMP. More questions have been raised than answered. We demand answers now.”
Martial also questioned the reasons behind the RCMP becoming publicly involved.
“Why did the RCMP, when for two weeks it stated that they have a bias-free policing policy…all of a sudden change their policy within this time frame?” questioned Martial, who said she is also calling for Valcourt’s immediate resignation.
At the same press conference Samson Cree Nation Chief Kurt Buffalo said he was very unhappy with the way “the mis-information” was broadcast, noting that the RCMP “did not give the full story – for us, we want some clarity.”
Alexander First Nation Chief Kurt Burnstick said Valcourt’s comments and RCMP involvement “is like slap in the face. I am the son of a mother who lost a daughter and I know what it feels like, As a Chief I sit here and I worry about the women of every nation, of all of Canada; they are the givers of life.”
“What we are looking for,” noted Nakota Sioux First Nation Chief Tony Alexis, “is help. We are looking for people to support us in this search; we’re trying to find our relatives. We need to come together, stand together and look for solutions and engage the government. There’s an election happening right now. How many of the people campaigning today are listening to us? We need them to participate.”
That any minister or policing agency could come up with such a number when there are still more than a thousand unresolved cases of murdered and missing on the books in Canada is surprising enough; to do so when a federal election is close at hand has Canada’s Chiefs wondering why Valcourt picked this particular time to further increase tensions between government and First Nations in Canada.
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) Vice President Bob Chamberlin said, “Minister Valcourt is still trying to substantiate the reckless and inflammatory statements he made last fall including that ‘if the guys grow up believing that women have no rights, that’s how they are treated.’”
Valcourt, first elected to Parliament as a Progressive Conservative in 1984, once served in Brian Mulroney’s government as Minister of State for Indian Affairs and Northern Development, a job that many First Nations leaders say he performed incompetently and with a degree of disdain for Aboriginal issues. Valcourt was named Indian Affairs Minister on February 22, 2013 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, despite the fact that the minister was forced to leave government in 1989 after having been involved in an accident while driving drunk. It isn’t the first erroneous miscalculation by Harper, who became leader of the “new” Conservative Party of Canada when he jumped ship from the Reform and Alliance parties shortly before becoming Prime Minister in 2005.
One of his first statements lauded the “significant progress” the Conservatives had made “in improving outcomes for Aboriginal people across Canada” via a series of misguided notions, including Canada’s part in building new schools, homes and investing “in clean drinking water systems.” The statement was ridiculed by Assembly of Manitoba Chief Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, who called Valcourt’s words “a regurgitation” of comments made by former Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan, who ironically was also forced to resign in 2013 because of questionable behaviour and/or illegal activity when he improperly advocated to a tax court on behalf of a constituent in June 2011.
“It’s quite apparent from (Valcourt’s) first ‘statement’ that there is a common thread tying ministers together in a tightly controlled authoritarian Harper regime,” Nepinak commented at the time, before expressing hope that Valcourt would address the many challenges facing First Nations.
Those hopes were in vain; dozens of First Nations are still using bottled water and many have no safe or workable sewage systems and Valcourt has repeatedly spoken out against holding a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women – despite the fact that many Canadians, including virtually every First Nation leader is demanding one.
In a statement issued on April 14, 2015, the UBCIC leaders were furious that the RCMP released information about missing and murdered Aboriginal women without having facts and figures to back up their claim. They were further outraged that it was done publicly, when they had been less inclined to be forthright with First Nations. The UBCIC, along with the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter “are once again echoing calls from Indigenous women and communities, advocacy organizations, multiple levels of government across Canada, and international human rights bodies, for a national and public inquiry into the disproportionately high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.”
UBCIC President and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said that “the RCMP’s piece-meal, sporadic, and dangerously racializing report highlights the urgent need for a national inquiry where this report can be properly evaluated and verified. We are absolutely shocked and appalled that the RCMP would hastily release these serious statistics without providing a full, publicly accessible report detailing how they are collecting and compiling this information.”
UBCIC Secretary-Treasurer Kukpi Judy Wilson said, “The RCMP and Federal Government’s explicit message is that this is an ‘Aboriginal’ problem and that Canada has no responsibility.”
Hilla Kerner, the spokesperson for Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter stated that “men from all races and communities commit violence against women and Aboriginal men are no exception. Given that Aboriginal women are the most oppressed and dispossessed, they are extremely vulnerable not only to violence by Aboriginal men but to violence by all men. We demand that the Canadian state ensure the safety, equality and liberty of all women. We will not accept anything less for Aboriginal women.”
UBCIC Women’s Representative Coola Louis noted that “instead of addressing the complex and intertwined root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, the RCMP and Federal Government are doing the complete opposite and continuing to entrench a racialized and colonial attitude toward Indigenous peoples.”
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde said he is very concerned that both the federal government and the RCMP are “withholding important and sensitive information” and he wants the information shared with First Nations so they can work to address and prevent violence.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that important information on a priority issue is being withheld from First Nations,” stated Bellegarde. “The federal government and the RCMP must immediately release all the information they have to First Nations so we can better understand the current situation and work together toward solutions.”
In a press release the AFN focussed on the statement Valcourt made regarding the fact that 70 percent of Aboriginal women murdered in Canada are apparently murdered by Aboriginal men, noting that “this figure only applies to cases that have been solved. An RCMP report released last May citing at least 1,181 indigenous women and girls were murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012 did not include this information.”
“That the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is withholding important information and, worse, is using it against First Nations defies logic and the department’s fiduciary duty,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “Blaming the victim is no longer an option. The federal government must recognize the root causes of poverty and work with us to address the poor conditions and lack of supports that our people endure every day, including action to support men’s healing programs. Minister Valcourt committed just over a month ago at the National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, to work with us on coordinated action to prevent and address violence. He cannot in good faith continue withholding information.”
by John Copley