Posts tagged ‘missing-aboriginal-women’

Day 21: 3,000 missing women should be an election issue

By Krystalline Kraus

How can 3,000 missing women not be an issue for the 2011 election? A prominent issue, in fact?

Is it because the 3,000 missing women are Indigenous and not white-skinned?

As Canadians soon face the decision of who they want to run their country, let me remind you that it was the Conservative government under Stephen Harper that cut funding to Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).

According to research conducted under NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit program, nationally over 580 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing, most of them over the last 30 years.

I concede that the number is much higher, as Gladys Radek from Walk4Justice estimates over 3,000 women are known to have gone missing or been murdered in Canada since the 1970s, with at least 80 per cent of these women being from First Nations.

But it is the SIS program that has the hard facts of cases that were officially reported and investigated. It’s truly a tragedy that we don’t know the truth regarding how many mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmother, aunts and friends have gone missing, since, according to Radek, many cases go unreported.

It is not that Canada is unaware of the situation. Two years ago, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued this statement: “Hundreds of cases involving Aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades have neither been fully investigated nor attracted priority attention.”

Now is election time and it’s important that such a large number of missing Indigenous women does not go ignored.

For it is Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that was responsible for the demise of NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit. On Friday Oct. 29, 2010, the federal government announced the end of (by lack of funding) the Sisters in Spirit (SIS) program, an announcement made by MP Rona Ambrose.

As defined by its creator, NWAC, SIS was: “a research, education and policy initiative driven and led by Aboriginal women. Our primary goal is to conduct research and raise awareness of the alarmingly high rates of violence against Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.”

Instead, the Conservative government has pledged $10 million in funding to develop a national police support centre for missing persons [Note: unlike the SIS database, this new initiative won’t focus solely on Indigenous women] and unidentified remains that won’t be operational until 2013 at the earliest.

The new police centre will rely on missing persons reports filed with local police forces. From the local police station reports, the new police database will provide linkages to other cases if they exist (what about complaints of racism and the charge that local police officers ignore or do not follow up on these missing persons reports?).

The government is basically taking the place of SIS, true to the adage of ‘burning down the old village and building a new one’ — but with a database and centre whose politics it can control.

Before the election, the Liberal party released a statement on February 14, 2011, for the national day of action for murdered and missing Indigenous women stating its support for the restoration of funding to the SIS program.

In the press release, Liberal Women’s Caucus Chair Lise Zarac said, “By trying to shut down the Sisters in Spirit program, the Conservative government is undermining civil society’s ability to improve gender equality in Canada.”

“It’s clear that Stephen Harper’s priorities are in the wrong place when he would rather give tax breaks to the largest corporations and spends billions of dollars on fighter jets than fund this initiative. The sad truth is Aboriginal women and girls will continue to go missing until more is done to stop this violence,” concluded Ms. Zarac.

This is a good start, but we need more than just words — a one time mention by the current official opposition. I want this issue brought up — Harper challenged — during the official election 2011 debate by all opposition parties. 3,000 murdered deserve no less.

They also need more than words. Justice demands an apology and then action.

As we wait for justice, the list of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada continues to grow: Out a total of 582 cases across the country, 393 died as a result of murder or negligence. And 115 remain missing. Only 53 per cent of the cases involving Indigenous women was someone charged, whereas the average rate for charges in a homicide in Canada is 84 per cent.

I attended the Aboriginal Missing and Murdered Women’s Conference at the Native Canadian Centre in early March 2011 and found out disturbing statistics regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Ontario.

I learned that NWAC has, “gathered information on approximately 70 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Ontario. This accounts for 12 per cent of cases in the NWAC database.”

“The large number of cases in Ontario illustrates that the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls is not just a ‘west-coast problem,’ but rather a national concern impacting central Canada.”

When discussing Indigenous concerns as election issues, the case for justice for murdered and missing Indigenous women cannot be viewed in isolation but must be viewed in tandem with the high rates of poverty facing Indigenous families, the lack of health services and clean drinking water and the systematic destruction of culture through the residential school system and other policies of assimilation.

In an inter-generational context, all the factors are interconnected and need to be addressed for true justice and healing to take place.

Day 19: First Nations Poverty Not a Debate Factor

A “tame Indian” is the government Indian who has turned on his tribe and acts as a guide and interpreter for the governor. They usually live just outside the governor’s settlement obediently awaiting their next duties to fulfill. They do this in return for special favours from the governor.  Considered a traitor to his nation, they are not usually welcomed back by their own people.

I’ve been reflecting on the English-language debate that took place last night and wondering if the message of First Nations poverty is getting across to the four main political parties.

Score one for the New Democratic Party in my books.  Last night, NDP leader Jack Layton was the only one who mentioned First Nations poverty in getting across his point that Canada must support crime prevention, not just lock up criminals:

“If you talk to the leadership of Aboriginal communities, First Nations, Metis and Inuit, they cry out for just descent housing so they don’t have three or four families crammed into a competely unsatisfactory house. And basically with no hope for the future.  And where to they find themselves? Drifting into the temptations of crime and ultimately ending up in jail in far too high a percentage   And here’s Shawn Atleo, the national chief, calling for a focus on education, a focus on housing, getting clean water into these communities… dealing with the fundamental poverty and its’ not just in aboriginal communities, but it certainly is terrible severe there.  These are some of the fundamental underlying causes that we have to tackle as a country.”

There was no other mention of First Nations issues by the other leaders.

I know for a fact that First Nations poverty is a priority for the Liberal Party of Canada.  The election platform calls for the development of a Poverty Reduction Plan for Canada, along with an Affordable Housing Framework, an Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund, increases to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and increased access to post-secondary education opportunities to First Nations and low-income families.  But Michael Ignatieff (Liberal, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) didn’t mention any of these in relation to First Nations people.  Quite disappointing, even for this die-hard Liberal.

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo summed up our collective disappointment stating: “Our issues matter now and are critical to Canada’s future. I am disappointed that our people and issues were not a substantive part of the discussion in last night’s leadership debate.”

To make matters worse, there is a significant segment of the Conservative Party that thinks that Aboriginal issues have already been dealt with.

Chris Alexander, a so-called “star candidate” running for the Conservatives in Ajax-Pickering stated “we don’t’ have that kind of poverty in Canada” referring to the World Bank standard defining third-world levels of poverty.  Ever since, he has taken a beating for such an ignorant declaration.  National Chief Atleo has called upon Alexander to retract his statement.

Even their own Conservative Senator, their tame-Indian, Patrick Brazeau, claimed the Conservative government has already addressed the situation of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.  In a Twitter debate with Justin Trudeau (Liberal, Papineau), Brazeau tweeted: “Missing/Murdered already dealt with” in touting his party’s Aboriginal platform.  The reality is the neither the missing and murdered Aboriginal women nor First Nations poverty are dealt with in any way in the Conservative election platform.

As I stated before, First Nations are not speaking about poverty as a metaphor. We’re talking about real child poverty, homelessness and third world conditions right here in Canada. This should be a significant election issue. Resolving First Nations poverty should a priority for each and every party and politician in this country.

Canada’s Dirty Little Secret

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one with a dirty, little secret.

Canada still has fundamental human rights challenges. This is related to the conditions and history of Canada’s First Nations people. Sadly, these challenges are not generally known outside of Canada. Even some Canadians have blinders on. Many try to refute the truth and the statistics while never stepping foot in a remote First Nation community.

Today is International Human Rights Day. 61 years ago, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlining the 20 fundamental human rights that every human being is entitled to. According to Guinness World Records, it is also the most translated document in the world.

I wish it could only be translated into Canadian.

Last week, Stephen Harper was carrying his message of human rights to China – while fully ignoring the realities of his own backyard. Canada is not squeaky clean when it comes to human rights.

Here are just a few of the main human rights issues faced by Canada’s First Nations:

Third World Conditions – Canada currently ranks 4th in the world on the United Nations human development index. However, when Indian and Northern Affairs Canada entered First Nations-data only in the index, Canada ranks 63rd. Officially, this places Canada’s First Nations firmly in the realm of third world conditions.

Quality of Life Indicators – Infant mortality, life expectancy, homelessness, inadequate housing, incidents of tuberculosis, health disease, HIV-AIDS, diabetes – First Nations in Canada are near the top of the statistics. Suicide is the leading cause of death among First Nations between the ages of 10 and 24.

Aboriginal Women – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Yet, in recent years, there have been over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Most are the most vulnerable people in Canada, forced into homelessness, prostitution and unsafe situations. Many women and children are forced away from their homes, due to inequalities under the Indian Act and lack of matrimonial property laws. Once again, article 17 of the Declaration states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

Residential Schools – Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” For decades, First Nations children were forcibly removed from the homes, families and communities and forced to attend government sanctioned, church-run residential schools. Inside they were subject to systemic assimilation, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Entire generations of people endured inhuman and degrading treatment on behalf of the government and in the name of the Lord. First Nations survivors and victims were only given an apology in June 2008. Individuals and affected families were provided long-awaited compensation. Many more are still unresolved. Many thousands of Elders, the survivors, have died in anguish without any acknowledgement. Yet, the government has yet to deal with multi-generational trauma and the affected of residential school on language and culture. A truth and reconciliation commission will be travelling throughout Canada documenting the stories from Canada’s saddest chapter in it’s history.

Child Poverty – According to Campaign 2000, one in four Aboriginal children grow up in poverty. That is utterly signficant. Canada has attempted to address child poverty, and in 1989 passed a motion in the House of Commons to rid poverty by the year 2000. Not even close. Statistics are not improving.

Child Welfare – The Assembly of First Nations is currently before the Canadian Human Rights Commission after filing a complaint against the federal government over child welfare. There are over 27,000 First Nations children in care which is considered by many to be a state of crisis. Former National Chief Phil Fontaine described the conditions as a “national disgrace”. To this day, funding of First Nations child protection agencies is woefully inadequate to address the current need, much less lead to proactive, preventative measures. The situation is similar to what was referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, another Canadian historical taboo. In the 1960s, thousands of First Nations children were removed from their homes on reserves and placed into non-native care. Many of those children never reconnected with their First Nations culture and roots. Others were adopted out to non-native families without proper consent.

Education Inequity – Article 20 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to education.” But apparently this right is provided in varying degrees, at the discretion of the Crown. First Nations students going to school on-reserve are funded at least $2,000-$5000 less than non-native students attending public schools. On-reserve school facilities are inadequate and in many cases unsafe. As a result, the drop out rate for First Nations students is three times the Canadian average. About 70% of First Nations students on-reserve will never complete high school. This is all according to Government of Canada statistics.

Clean Drinking Water – Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,” However, there are still hundreds of boil water advisories in First Nation communities. That is boil water advisories for the entire communities, affecting every single home, affecting every single man, women and child. There is a fundamental lack of funding, standards and training for First Nations, much less the infrastructure needed to treat water and wastewater. Schools do not have clean potable water.

Indigenous Rights – Canada and the United States continues to refuse to be signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. This document entrenches the aspirations, values and rights of First Nations people including the right to have full enjoyment of the Rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the right to self-determination and self-government.

Perhaps, this message needs to be sent out during the Olympic Torch Run, leading up to and throughout the course of the 2010 Winter Olympics and perhaps during the Pan-Am Games. The message should be loud and clear during the upcoming G-8 meeting in Huntsville and the G-20 in Toronto.

I suggest that First Nations, as represented by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should join the fledgling “G-77”, the group of seventy-seven on the world’s poorest countries as a means of contributing to world affairs and gaining international attention to Canada’s dirty little secret.

Missing and Murdered First Nation Women are Calling

Left:  Shannon Alexander, 17 went missing with her friend Maisy Odjick, 16 on September 5, 2008 from Kitigan Zibi, Quebec.  Right:  Hilary Bonnell, 16 who went missing on September 5, 2009 from Burnt Church, New Brunswick.  Her body was discovered today.  All three girls were taken on my daughter’s birthday, September 5.

I’m declaring a state of emergency. This is a call to action. Something needs to be done, in a big way, to protect aboriginal women from violence, abduction and murder.

Today, police in New Brunswick announced they have discovered the remains of a young woman who they think is 16 year-old Hilary Bonnell, a Mi’kmaq from the Esgenoopetitj First Nation.  She was last seen on the highway coming from her community of Burnt Church.

“She was so excited because I was going to give her my car,” said Pamela Fillier to the Telegraph-Journal.  Pamela is Hilary’s mom.

“She was so excited to drive it. Now she is never going to get to drive it, she is never going to fall in love, she is never going to get to graduate, she is never going to get married and she is never going to give me grandchildren. I will never get to hold my baby girl again.”

I hadn’t realized the connection to me, until I compared Hillary with two Anishinaabe girls who went missin last year, Shannon Alexander, 17 and Maisy Odjick, 16 of Kitigan Zibi, Quebec.  All three girls were taken on my 14 year-old daughter’s birthday, September 5.

Hilary, Shannon and Daisy are just three of hundreds of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Each loss is a personal tragedy. Together, they represent a national tragedy. Each of these women is somebody’s granddaughter, mother, auntie, niece or cousin. They are not only our Sisters in Spirit, they are our daughters too.

As of March 31, across Canada there are 520 missing or murdered aboriginal women. More than half remain unsolved. This number is not decreasing, it is getting higher and higher.

There are a number of factors contributing to the current situation.  The rates of teenage pregnancies and single mothers lead to vulnerability. Poverty and homelessness forces women to the streets. Prostitution among teenage and underage women is rampant. Chronic disease, addictions and mental illness are also key factors. Family violence and the inequalities of the Indian Act force some women away from living in First Nation communities. In many of these cases, First Nations women don’t have very many choices, little protection and must avail themselves to the dangers of the streets.

Canada’s most notorious serial killer, Robert (Willie) Pickton was linked to 27 murders of women from Vancouver’s downtown east side. More than half were First Nations women. He was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. It remains to be seen if he faces the remaining 20 or so charges. But you’d better believe there are a few more Willie Picktons out there.

That doesn’t mean all these women are involved in drugs or prostitution either. In many of these cases, vulnerable women are simply stalked, lured and abducted.

In many cases, police are being criticized for their inaction and treating cases of missing aboriginal women different from other cases.

Today, a tearful Pamela Filler said she knew what had happened who was involved in the murder of her daughter. She said she told the police but they didn’t listen to her.

And this is not just happening to the down-and-out. This is happening to young, vibrant First Nations girls, like Hilary, Shannon and Maisy.

According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, just over one half (52%) of the women and girls in the their database are youth under the age of 30 years. Of this group, 14% were 18 years of age or younger at the time of the incident. That’s 72 girls just like Hilary, Shannon and Maisy.

Something has to be done to protect our daughters.

A focused approach to prevention and protection of First Nations women is needed, not on a case-by-case basis, but with a comprehensive, nation-wide focus. Something has to be done in a big way.

I would suggest this begin by calling a Royal Commission to look into the circumstances of missing and murdered aboriginal women. A royal commission could compel evidence from families, communities, government and law enforcement agencies across

Canada to put all the pieces together and make serious recommendations for implementation.

Recommendations could include setting in place measurable reductions in violence against women, including roles for all aboriginal organizations, the federal government, provincial and municipal governments and First Nations. We need to see significant reduction in poverty and homelessness. Increased long-term and sustainable investments are also needed in the areas of education, health, child care programs and housing programs specifically for First Nations women. Urban shelters and safe houses for vulnerable women need to be built and funded.

We also need to see improvements in the justice system to protect First Nations women. According to Douglas Miranda, this would include changes to the criminal code to increase sentences for violent offenders and new criminal provisions to protect vulnerable women; exploring the regulation of prostitution; improving enforcement and investigations and providing new tools to find missing women and prosecute violent offenders. Moreover, we need to develop an effective and wide-raging awareness and prevention campaign and development of protective programs such as a full-time national task force and street watch program.

We need to stop the infighting. “This is First Nations’ responsibility.” “This should be led by women.” “This is an off-reserve issue.” “No, this is an urban issue.” “This is a federal matter.” “This is a provincial and municipal matter.” In reality, this is an important issue for us all. We all need to accept responsibility and work together. No one needs to pass the buck or look out for number one.

Women need to feel safe. I don’t want to sound old-fashioned, but it’s the men’s responsibility to protect our women and our families. Our Anishinaabe teachings tell us this.

Sadly, even to this day, male privilege means the genders are not equal. There is no balance between the genders. I’m hopeful the day will come soon when male dominance is once and for all, humbled by the power, strength and beautiful Spirit of the women.

Until that day comes, we as men, need to stand up and do everything we can to Love, Respect and protect women. That means standing up on this issue, side by side with women, and calling for lasting change and justice for the 500 plus women that are calling out for help. This is a call to action.

We may not hear them but they are calling. Can you hear them?