On February 14, Roberta McIvor, murdered in 2011, and Maisy Odjick, missing since 2008, received a different sort of Valentine’s Day gift, the gift of acknowledgment.
At the 22nd annual memorial march held for missing and murdered aboriginal women, the girls’ photographs were carried, mounted on placards, their brilliant smiles bearing witness to the fact that behind every statistic is a tragedy.
The statistics are grim. According Missing Justice, a grass-roots solidarity collective that organized the march, more than 600 indigenous women and girls have vanished, with more than half having disappeared since 2000. As former justice minister and MP Irwin Cotler had pointed out, if this had happened to non-native Canadian women at the same rate, “over 20,000 would be murdered or missing by now.”
The day before the march, a scathing report by Human Rights Watch alleged that those charged with protecting women—the RCMP—have been involved in human rights abuses against them, including rape. Prime Minister Harper’s suggestion that women should “get on” with filing complaints to the “appropriate police” was proof to Human Rights Watch co-researcher Samer Muscati and others that Harper “missed the point” of the report, which was about women’s fundamental fear of the police.
Addressing the Montreal crowd, human-rights activist Ellen Gabriel put the issue in a historical context: “Since the time of contact, it’s been about economics, it’s been about a land grab. The best way to destroy a nation, a nation who lived sustainably on Mother Earth, was to attack the women. And it continues today as we saw evidence from Human Rights Watch of the B.C. RCMP abuse and rape of aboriginal women and girls.”
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Gabriel deplored the blasé attitude of the authorities, which perpetuates a harmful stereotype of indigenous women that many say stands in the way of a prompt and thorough investigation. “When an aboriginal woman is missing, she’s probably gone partying, she’ll come back, maybe, in a few months.”
Gabriel recalled the systematic harm done to native people through the residential schools, where children were forcibly taken away from their families and punished for speaking their own language.
“And we see no reconciliation, we see instead a government lead by a tyrant. We see a government that is more preoccupied with economics and dirty oil coming here on Mohawk territory and selling it to Asia than about human rights, than about saving the environment and preserving it for present and future generations. And that’s the shame of Canada.”
In Parliament, Cotler has warned that Canada’s image is being tarnished in the international community. “It does no good to our reputation to have international authorities, whether they be the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women or others, reminding us of the fact that this issue is still festering and has yet to be properly addressed and redressed.”
The Liberals and NDP as well as the Assembly of First Nations and others are demanding a National Public Inquiry into the issue.
“The creation of such a judicial commission of inquiry would address, importantly, on a symbolic and psychological level, as well as on a substantive level, the serious, pernicious and persistent violence and the fear that has developed over decades, because of a failure to protect and a failure to deal with it,” Cotler said.
The Senior Times invites your thoughts. Have you taken part in demonstrations or vigils held by Missing Justice, Sisters in Spirit or Idle No More? We welcome your comments in the box below.