The following blog post was written by a Grade 11 student for an assignment for NBE3U – Indigenous Voices and re-posted with her permission.
Women around the world have internally normalized gender inequality, sexual harassment, and inequity. We have been told to keep our keys between our knuckles, learn self-defence and always have a friend on speed dial- because we need to keep ourselves safe from the world. However, whatever gender inequality non-indigenous women have faced- Indigenous women have faced much more. In 2018, there were around 20 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous Women in Canada. These women were deprived of a normal life, their family, their dreams and their aspirations- simply because they were Indigenous. Today, the number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women has grown to around 4,000 and has created an intergenerational impact on the community.
Every day, young Indigenous girls witness their loved ones harassed and assaulted. They learn to normalize these behaviours and often practice silence when they experience the same. According to Genna Buck at the National Post, around 4.8% of harassment and violence cases towards Indigenous women go unreported. Of these women, around 80% were daughters of individuals who also experienced assault. However, this is not the case for all Indigenous Women and sometimes- these cases are reported. In 2018, around 4% of Canadian women took the liberty to report their cases of harassment, violence and gender inequality. Of these women, around 10% of the victims were Indigenous. This was the largest group affected, yet the media completely ignored this. In today’s society, when Indigenous women go missing or are murdered, their cases are dismissed and ignored. Yet, when women who identify as non-indigenous go missing or are murdered, they make national headlines. They may also start a feminist uproar, which ultimately demonstrates one of the many reasons why Missing and Murdered Indigenous women is still a national epidemic.
During the last election, Prime Minister candidate Justin Trudeau promised that if he was elected, he would initiate a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. To my pleasant surprise, he did. For those unfamiliar with Canadian Politics, Justin is the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who wasn’t exactly the keenest on Indigenous Rights. So, you can understand my sentiment when I learned he kept his promise. The report was published earlier this year and finally brought light to the racism and inequality Indigenous women face on an everyday basis. The report itself is 1,200 pages long and is the product of a 3-year process, that started in August 2016. It involves statements from 2,380 victims, their families, experts and “Knowledge Keepers“. The commissioners in charge of the report also studied thousands of court records and police reports that were written between the first case of MMIWG and today. The report and inquiry were given a $92 million budget and the final copy was presented on June 3rd, 2019 at an ornate ceremony.
A video of Prime Minister Trudeau’s speech at the ceremony for the presentation of the national inquiry report.
The report, though quite a lengthy read, gives non-indigenous people an insight into the six-decade struggle that has taken place in most Indigenous communities across Canada. Now, before writing this post- I decided to look through this report to get a basic understanding of what was uncovered through the investigation. As I suspected, the report announced that this issue is nothing short of genocide. Although this epidemic may not be as bloody and violent as other famous genocides in history- it is still targeting people of a certain gender and identity for no reason besides their background. Every year, innocent women are killed and kidnapped off the street for doing nothing wrong and are deprived of life’s basic pleasures like love and happiness. Time and time again, Indigenous communities are targeted and forced to accept terrible conditions, simply because no one cares enough to stop them (this can also be seen in the sixties scoop and residential schools).
However, this isn’t the case anymore. Through this report, it has become clear that the issue of MMIWG is an act of racism, prejudice, and bias and should not be ignored. Living in a society that celebrates diversity and equality, it is mind-blowing that we call ourselves feminists yet blatantly overlook the needs and human rights violations affecting Indigenous women every day. In my opinion, it’s because we don’t care enough. All our lives, the needs of Indigenous people have been swept under the rug. We are programmed to ignore their needs and often look the other way when they cry for help. However, this does not solve problems. Instead, it helps problems escalate and grow. This clearly explains why the MMIWG crisis is still a societal issue, almost 60 years after it first started. To make matters worse, many individuals also refuse to learn about Indigenous communities simply because they do not connect with them. To many people, Indigenous nations are similar to a different species- and as a result, they don’t enjoy learning or talking about them.
However, as I have come to learn in my short time in NBE- you can connect with anything and anyone (from any culture), as long as you are willing to make the effort. To add on, while this issue may not affect you entirely, it may affect someone like you. Twenty miles away, there could be a child the same age as you who lost their mother, sister or aunt to this national epidemic. They are left silenced- without any explanation or answer regarding their loved one’s health. All these individuals are waiting for is someone to collaborate with them in order to help spread awareness for the crisis their families face every day, and through this report- it seems like something is finally happening.
Indigenous youth with picture of family members they lost through this epidemic. While it may not affect you, it does affect someone like you.
When researching this topic, one thing that stood out to me was the clear discrimination and bias behind what the media portrayed about this epidemic. In the introduction, I mentioned that when non-indigenous women are harassed, they are more likely to receive media attention and help inspire people to make a change. This hit quite close to home and reminded me of the media bias that I see surrounding terrorism and it’s relation to the Muslim community. A few years ago, there was a deadly van attack in Toronto– that left many people dead. The perpetrator was a young, white man who media outlets labelled as “mentally ill”. Soon after the attack, reporters started describing the event as “a troubled man’s actions or “a product of his mental illness”. Now, before I continue- I want to mention that I am not discrediting mental illness but instead, want to put the idea into perspective. This man committed what would normally be described as terrorism- if he was a Muslim. Instead, the individual’s white privilege unleashed a plethora of excuses that overlooked his behaviour and instead, credited it to something he couldn’t control. These excuses were also made during the Quebec Mosque shooting, the Parkland shooting, and the Manchester Stabbing, back in 2018. In fact, attacks done by non-muslim perpetrators are 52% more likely to be attributed to mental illness, when compared to attacks done by Muslims. These attacks are also 35% less likely to receive media coverage when compared to attacks done by Muslims.
Whether intentional or not, media outlets usually link terrorist attacks with Muslims. They distort public perception and create rigid schemas that influence the way people act towards the issue. This can also be seen with MMIWG. In the past, media outlets have victimized the MMIWG, often attributing their disappearance to alcohol, drugs or other stereotypes surrounding the Indigenous community. They often refuse to tell the whole story (or even tell the story at all). This influences public opinions and allows people to overlook the issue because no-one is talking about it. As a result, whether it is intentional or not- Canadians often victim blame and attribute the consequences of the situation to the victim as opposed to the perpetrator. This is one of the main reasons why MMIWG is still a huge issue in our society. Instead of researching the issue for ourselves, we tend to listen to what the media portrays (or does not portray). As a result, we tend to overlook the issue because we don’t have the right information. This can be detrimental because it influences negative bias and schema towards an issue- which can be quite irritating for the communities affected. I can’t begin to explain the number of times I’ve tried to convince people that terrorism is not exclusive to non-white perpetrators.
All in all, it blows my mind that Indigenous women across the country are still experiencing the same prejudice and discrimination they were almost 60 years ago- when Missing and Murdered Indigenous women first became a problem. In my opinion the national inquiry was a huge step in the right direction, however, there is still a lot that needs to be done to ensure that Indigenous women can live the lives they have dreamed for themselves (without having to live in constant fear of being murdered or going missing). I am quite optimistic about what the coming government will have to say about this issue and the potential progress that will be made towards ending the intergenerational impact of this epidemic. Until then, learning and teaching others about the issue is a great start- and is something we can all do whether it be online or in person. It takes minimal effort, and it may not change our world- but it will change the world for the communities affected.