On August 24, 2016, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Commission (MMIWG) was created as a response to the 41st Call to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Inquiry, which was completed in May 2019 and released to the public in June 2019, involved over 2300 people in interviews, hearings, artistic expressions, and expert hearings.
Official government estimates place the number of Indigenous women and girls in unresolved missing person or murder cases at over 1,100 since 1980. In fact, Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be victims in such cases than other Canadian women and 16 times more likely than Caucasian women.
Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQIA Individuals
This increased exposure to violence, as well the disproprtionate rates of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and violence faced by Indigenous women and girls is one result of intesecting layers of oppression. Racism and sexism are compounded and then exacerbated by the economic and political situation Indigenous communities in Canada face. It follows that 2SLGBTQQIA individuals also face disproportionate rates of gender-based violence.
In her testimony, Danielle E, a mother of seven women and a grandmother, described how the threat of violence affects her family: “I’m afraid, and it’s a fear that we all carry every day and you get so used to it that it’s like it’s part of you.” Danielle’s testimony, as well as statements given by many other women, exemplifies the normalization of violence and its salience in the lives of many Indigenous women. This normalization not only has an impact on mental health but also decreases the likelihood perpetrators will be reported.
The Inquiry’s mandate was to report on all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls which includes “family violence, institutional racism in health care, child welfare, policing and the justice system, and other forms of violence that stem from the same structures of colonization.” The Inquiry was also tasked with reporting actions to remedy the structural and systemic causes of violence and to honour and commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The Government’s Response
The fifth recommendation of the Inquiry’s interim report, released in November 2017, was to create a commemoration fund. The government created such a fund, which will invest $13 million in 100 projects. This commemoration is important for healing, restoring the respect and dignity of the Stolen Sisters, and creating a visible historical narrative. While the list of funded projects is yet to be released, current and past commemorative projects have included The REDress Project, Walking With Our Sisters, the Sisters in Spirit Vigils, and the Gallery of Artistic Expressions.
The government has also announced reforms to policing and justice systems to better address violence against women, some of which have been hedged under the Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender Based-Violence. Additionally, health support for survivors and families was extended along with the extension of the Inquiry. That stated, the one-year extension begs the question of how short-term projects, complementary to the Inquiry for a year after it finishes, will heal decades of trauma. The 2019 budget also included increased funding for Indigenous housing and education on reserves.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has had two opportunities to date to address issues brought by the Inquiry, first at the release of the final report on June 3 and then on National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.
On June 3, Trudeau’s language was tepid. He thanked the commissioners and participants in the inquiry, reminded Canadians of the steps taken to address the interim report and highlighted policing and justice programs which “help tackle the systemic causes of violence that put Indigenous women and girls at risk.”
On June 21, he also noted that “reconciliation means changing colonial laws, policies, and practices” and claimed that Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples is its most important. On that day, there was no mention of the recently concluded $53 million Inquiry.
Also missing from these statements and all government press releases in response to the Interim Report is any mention of reform of the Indian Act or Indigenous self-determination. While investments in police and justice reform, as well as Indigenous languages, the Indian Act is a key element in the oppression of Indigenous women as it codifies sex discrimination.
Bringing a Critical Lens to the Response
If the government’s slow response to the interim report is any indication of the sense of urgency placed on the issue, a response to the final report, which was over 1200 pages, may be further off. Concerns over delays were expressed in an open letter by Amnesty International and Indigenous groups. The slow response is troubling not only because the issues raised, including the state of emergency in Attawapiskat, are urgent but because they are no surprises.
58 reports have investigated violence against Indigenous women and the treatment of Indigenous peoples and individuals in Canada. According to the Interim report, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba (1991), the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) “clearly determined that violence against Indigenous Peoples was rooted in colonization” and yet, it is mention of these issues which are most glaringly absent from the government’s response.
Looking back on the past decade, Canada’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples has become a prominent topic in the news about the Trans-Pacific pipeline and Idle No More protests of 2012-2013. In fact, a recent poll indicates most Canadians agree with the use of the term genocide in the Inquiry’s final report to describe the grave crimes committed by the Canadian government.
Evidently, Canadians care about violence against women and consider it a grave crime. The government’s failure to solve any of the structural causes of the violence or improve Indigenous relations, as promised could factor into public opinion about the Liberal party in the next federal election. However, the completion of the inquiry before the election may also be viewed as a campaign promise completed.
Edited by Eyitayo Kunle-Oladosu
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Featured image by Pax Ahimsa Gethen via Wikimedia Commons