It’s been over four years in the making, but the inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of Canada has come to an end. The inquiry concluded that there have been over 4000 MMIW2SG (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Twospirit, and Girls). 4000. That is close to the population of Oliver, BC.
There has been a lot of debate around the word “genocide” and whether or not it is founded in this instance. This focus on one word has distracted from the real issue at hand — Indigenous women are being murdered and going missing. It IS genocide, but it also happens BECAUSE of genocide.
Every article regarding the MMIWG inquiry is entrenched in statistics:
Despite being 4.3 percent of the population, Indigenous women make up 16% of homicide victims. Indigenous women continue to be disproportionately affected by all forms of violence. Furthermore, the violence they face is disproportionately more severe than non-Indigenous individuals. In Saskatchewan, 60% of missing persons are Indigenous women.
I could go on. Many of these articles mention “socioeconomic” conditions, and a history of colonialism, but seem to mention these subjects in passing or ignore them altogether. The inquiry itself exists to attempt to answer the question “why”, but also to provide recommendations for how to remove the systemic causes of violence and increase the safety of Indigenous women in Canada.
The government of Canada website outlines actions that have been taken since the inquiry began, some of which include ensuring Indigenous women’s voices are heard, and reviewing the practices of the RCMP and the criminal justice system. On the other hand, there was no call for changes regarding how the autopsies or deaths of Indigenous women are handled.
In 2016, CBC News investigated 32 deaths of Indigenous women where ‘no foul play’ was found. The results were shocking. Ten of the victims had unexplained injuries on their bodies; seventeen were victims of domestic and family violence; six were found naked or only partially clothed; in 31 of the cases, a person of interest was identified but foul play was ruled out and no charges were laid; in more than 5 of the deaths, the coroner’s findings and police determinations were in conflict with each other.
In an interview, Kona Williams — Canada’s first Indigenous forensic pathologist — expressed disappointment in regards to how autopsies and coroner’s reports are handled. She found that several Indigenous families received no information about the cause of death; they were never contacted about their family member, or they were unsure as to how to go about getting more information.
The fact these reviews are being done looks and sounds great. In a perfect world, the inquiry would result in massive systemic changes throughout all aspects of the government: a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy, and the outcome being beneficial to our people is highly unlikely.
Please, allow me to explain my cynicism.
Canada, as a country, exists because of the genocide of our people. Settlers arrived seeking to colonize the continent. Our people were systematically uprooted, murdered, or threatened, and forced to remote areas allowing Europeans to colonize our land. Any time our people tried to fight back or stand up for themselves, they were attacked, either with weapons or germ warfare [See: Smallpox blankets].
The British colonies wrote and enforced laws that governed the First Nation’s people prior to the Canadian confederation, so when the Indian Act was passed, it was a consolidation of the laws they had already writ into effect. The Constitution and Indian Act were instituted in the same year. The passing of the Constitution would have been a lot harder if the First Nations people weren’t already controlled by the laws of the British colonies.
It was expected that Indigenous people would admit defeat and assimilate with the Europeans, and when that proved to be more difficult than anticipated, the residential school system was created. Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, who was also the head of the Department of Indian Affairs, was a huge support of the system, and said
“When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”
First Nation’s people have been victims of colonization for centuries, something that still affects us today. Throughout Canada’s history, up to this very day, Indigenous people are seen as a problem to overcome. We have either been forcefully assimilated or isolated, and when the consequences of systemic, generational violence and racism become visible, it is seen as a problem with our people.
White Canadians are well versed at victim blaming First Nation’s people. We have had our land stolen from us, we have been murdered, displaced, assimilated, and abused. Despite this, there has been little to no support for our people when it comes to coping with our generational trauma, which has lead some of us to mask our pain by other, more harmful coping mechanisms — alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, and crime. These are issues that plague some of our people, but instead of looking at the systemic frameworks that created them, we are blamed for our behavior.
Our problems are not Canada’s problems; we have been left on our own in the aftermath of centuries of violence. Invisibility is a huge repercussion of the systemic racism we face. Our people are not seen, not heard, and not cared about.
Which brings me back to the 4000 MMIW2SG inquiry.
There have been people calling for an investigation into the Highway of Tears since the 1970s. Indigenous women have been going missing along that highway for decades, but it only made national news headlines in 2002, when Nicole Hoar went missing on the same stretch of road. Why did it take from the 1970s until 2002 to make news headlines? Well, Nicole Hoar was Caucasian. This is a grievous example of our invisibility and the damage it does.
I do believe that things are starting to change, little by little, and that the inquiry finally being in national and international news headlines is doing tremendous good for our people. I see tiny pockets of hope, here and there.
Unfortunately, racism towards and bias against First Nation’s people is what this country was founded on. It would be very hard to acknowledge our humanity while we were being abused, separated from our families, assimilated, assaulted, and murdered. Through our dehumanization, Canada gained its power.
Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that people are caught up on the word ‘genocide’, and so quick to deny its usage. Human rights organizations recognize 10 stages of genocide:
- Classification [See: The Indian Act]
- Symbolization [See: The Indian Act]
- Discrimination [See: The Indian Act]
- Dehumanization [See: The Indian Act]
- Organization [See: The Indian Act]
- Polarization [See: The Indian Act]
- Preparation [See: The Indian Act]
- Persecution [See: The Indian Act]
- Extermination [See: The Indian Act]
- Denial [See: Here. Here. Here. Here.]
If Canada wants to be a better place for First Nation’s people, Canadians need to stop denying the use of the word genocide and move forward, acknowledging our true history and learning, from our own people, what we’ve endured. In a time of individualism and self-care, we are asking for empathy. We are asking for understanding. We are asking to be heard. We are asking to be seen. We are asking to be acknowledged.
If Canadians are willing to face us and our history, acknowledge what their ancestors have done to us, and understand that the repercussions of their actions continue to affect us to this day, then perhaps we can continue to heal our wounds and work together to create a more positive, inclusive Canada.
If the findings of this inquiry go unnoticed or ignored by the general population, then no amount of research or investigation is going to change how we’re viewed. We will continue to face the trauma of colonization on our own, without the proper resources needed for healing. We will continue to be an invisible minority, facing systemic racism and prejudice throughout all facets of society. Furthermore, we will continue to be murdered, go missing, and when our beaten, naked bodies are found, our deaths will be ruled as accidental, and nothing more will come of it.
If anyone needs a reason as to why they should care about the racism we face, the invisibility we suffer, and the ramifications of this type of prejudice, I can give you a reason. In fact, I can give you over 4000 of them.
originally published on Medium.com, 2019, written by bailey macabre