aboriginal women

Missing Women’s Report Release Pokes at Unhealed Wounds

Cover of yesterday's report. Click to download the full, 1458-page document

Cover of yesterday’s report. Click to download the full, 1458-page document

by Jarrah Hodge

Yesterday’s release of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report was an emotional event that did little to guarantee justice for victims.

I haven’t yet been able to do an in-depth reading of the over 1400-page report produced by Commissioner Wally Oppal after over a year of hearings and deliberations, but I can talk about the problems with the process and about what I saw watching the livestream of Oppal’s news conference.

Over the hour, Oppal was interrupted over and over by victims’ families and Indigenous women, shouting down his claim that everyone had had their voice heard during the inquiry, and at one point breaking into a “Women’s Warrior” song and drumming. It was a powerful moment to see Oppal be silenced, even briefly, by the women who had been silenced during this whole process.

In the Spring of this year, several community and advocacy organizations joined in a coalition to boycott the inquiry, calling it a “deeply flawed and illegitimate process” after funding was denied to the 13 groups granted any standing in the inquiry. The groups spoke out over and over again on other major issues with the Inquiry, including the failure to provide lawyers for community groups when lawyers were provided to protect police and government interests, arbitrary timelines, delayed and incomplete disclosure, unwillingness to give enough time to Aboriginal witnesses, marginalization of vulnerable witnesses and lack of witness protection for them. Read more

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Sisters in Spirit 2012

Sisters in Spirit vigil in Ottawa

by E. Cain

It is a national tragedy that there have been over 600 disappearances and murders of Aboriginal women and girls across the country over the past 30 years. 

To honour the lives of the victims, raise awareness and seek justice, Sisters in Spirit vigils are being held across the country  - 2012 being the 7th year of observances. Tonight I attended the vigil in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. It took place directly before the annual Take Back the Night march and drew a strong showing of support.

As I listened to the victims’ family members speak so bravely about the memories of their loved ones, I felt sadness and anger at the blatant racism and discrimination that they continue to face.

The calls were very clear for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in this country. The government also needs to work with First Nations leaders to implement long-term solutions to end the systemic inequalities that continue to plague Aboriginal communities, including affordable housing, economic development, and supports for women.

I for one hope that in one of the Parliament Hill offices, just a couple feet away, there was a government MP listening to these calls and ready to push for action. But as one of the speakers put it: “I really hope that we don’t have to gather here again next year, but I doubt it, and we will continue to fight for justice.”

Messages written by vigil attendees

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Indigenous and Women of Colour Media Makers Resist!

Tailfeathers (center) with star of A Red Girl’s Reasoning Jessica Matten (left) and Rose Stiffarm (right)

4th post as part of  Joanna Chiu‘s series of posts for Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support Services on media representations of violence against women in recognition of Prevention of Violence Against Women Week. Read the whole series at the BWSS Ending Violence blog.

Today, as I was walking down the street to write at my favorite coffee shop, I received the usual afternoon greetings from my neighbours: “Hey baby!” “Konichee-wa!” “Ni hao! “Look at that ass!!”

As all Indigenous women and women of colour know, if sexism wasn’t bad enough, we encounter racism on a daily basis as well—on the street, in the classroom, in the workplace, and in the media. (See the theory of intersectionality on how oppressions like racism, ageism and classism intersect.)

In media, women of colour are often hyper-sexualized, and depicted in racial caricatures: Kung Fu ladies, geishas, sexy Latina sirens, Pocahontas types, etc. That is, if we see ourselves represented in the media at all. According to Journalism.com’s State of the Media report, race and gender issues only accounted for 1% of overall news coverage. And how many women of colour lead actresses can you name in Hollywood, or who have graced the covers of glossy magazines?

The absence of representations of people of colour in the media is as bad as racist representations in the media, because it implies that we simply don’t matter. Read more

Posted on by Joanna Chiu in Feminism, Pop Culture, Racism 2 Comments

Film: Survival, Strength, Sisterhood

The Annual Women’s Memorial March is just over a week away, with events happening across Canada around February 14.

This year events will be held in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on February 13 and 14. Find information here. The first Women’s Memorial March was held in 1991 after the murder of an Indigenous woman on Powell Street in Vancouver.

A new film by Alejandro Zuluaga and Harsha Walia, based on a concept by the Downtown Eastside Power of Women Group, tells us about the history of the march and its continuing importance today.

Survival, Strength, Sisterhood: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside from Alejandro Zuluaga on Vimeo.


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Review: We Shall Remain

We Shall Remain PBSIf you’re looking to fill in some of your high school history curriculum’s blanks and learnabout Native American history, you could do worse than watching We Shall Remain, a 5-part series from PBS’ American Experience.

Though it originally aired in 2009, you can now watch full episodes online or download the episode transcripts on the PBS site, or download the series from iTunes.

Given the lack of accessible documentaries on Indigenous history, We Shall Remain is important. And on many levels it does a good job.

Each episode takes a crucial historical moment, starting with the first post-Mayflower conflict between the settlers and the Wampanoag, going through the struggles of Tecumseh and the Trail of Tears, and ending with the 1970s standoff at Wounded Knee. The history is given through narration (by Benjamin Bratt), reenactments, and interviews with academics specializing in Native American history and linguistics. More impressive were the many interviews with Native Americans themselves sharing oral histories, and in the case of Wounded Knee, first-hand experiences. Read more

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Don’t Need Saving: Aboriginal Women and Access to Justice

Last week Toronto non-profit METRAC (Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children) and Audrey Huntley of Wolf Dog Productions launched a new short film: “Don’t Need Saving: Aboriginal Women and Access to Justice.”

Now the video’s been uploaded to YouTube and I’ve embedded it below because I think it’s important. The video features interviews with several Aboriginal women who explain some of the key issues they face, including racist stereotypes and a perception by white people that they “need saving”


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Missing Women Inquiry’s Fatal Funding Flaw

From its inception, the Murdered and Missing Women Inquiry had its problems. The first concern raised by Aboriginal women’s groups and groups working with sex workers was the choice of Wally Oppal, former Liberal Attorney General, as the inquiry’s commissioner, given his political ties to some of the key witnesses. There was also controversy about the limited terms of reference, which specified the inquiry was only to focus on events from 1997 to Pickton’s arrest in 2002.

But even if you thought Oppal could be impartial as a commissioner or you’ve been convinced since he took the job, it’s become clear that the inquiry has no chance at reaching any legitimate and useful conclusions until the government agrees to fund the 13 groups granted standing in the inquiry. The groups Oppal’s advocated for to receive funding includemany small, local groups who work with at-risk women and understand the problems with how the Pickton case and other investigations were handled.

Last month BC Liberal Attorney General Barry Penner decided Oppal had no authority to recommend funding for these groups, which has meant many have been forced to withdraw. Ian Mulgrew reported in the Vancouver Sun that it would take approximately $1.5 million to finance the groups, a relatively small amount compared to the overall cost of the case. The list of those who’ve withdrawn now includes WISH, a DTES drop-in centre for sex workers; the Union of BC Indian Chiefs; the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association; and most recently the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Other groups have also indicated they will be unable to participate in the inquiry in the longer term.

Penner is also refusing funding for counsel for Kim Rossmo, a former Vancouver police officer whose warnings of a serial killer were ignored by the department. He may not appear.

The inquiry is becoming nothing more than the Liberal government’s latest dog and pony show, though whether Barry Penner is the dog or the pony is anyone’s guess.

Last week the BC NDP called on the government to fix the funding issues: “These workers are on the front lines and have first-hand knowledge of how things can be improved for aboriginal women at-risk; however, without counsel, they’re unable to provide a submission to the inquiry,” said NDP Attorney General Critic Leonard Krog.

But the Native Women’s Association of Canada is taking it a step further, arguing that real change will require a national inquiry: “NWAC was initially concerned about the limited scope of the BC Commission of Inquiry, but chose to participate to bring forward the knowledge and expertise developed through the Sisters In Spirit initiative. NWAC is now calling for a National Inquiry to focus on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls across Canada,” read NWAC’s recent statement.

In the long run, I hope we do see a national inquiry, as proposed by NWAC. The issues leading to violence against Aboriginal women and to the lack of police interest in the cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women go beyond the limits of the Downtown Eastside and beyond the years 1997-2002. They include systemic racism and sexism, cuts to Aboriginal services at the federal and provincial levels, federal prostitution law that puts sex workers at greater risk, and the complicated legacy of colonialism.

But at a bare minimum Christy Clark and Barry Penner need to restore legitimacy to the provincial inquiry by funding the 13 groups identified by Oppal. It’s unjust to the murdered and missing Aboriginal girls the inquiry’s supposed to represent to only fund lawyers for the victims’ families and government and police participants who will be defending their conduct during the Pickton investigation. If we want the most legitimate results for the inquiry, we need to have these experienced grassroots groups funded to provide their perspectives.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism 1 Comment