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
When four women from Saskatchewan – Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean – came together to oppose Bill C-45 in early October, I’m not sure they predicted how their group would spark a national movement spread through the Twitter hashtag #IdleNoMore. Leading up to December 10, the women organized rallies and teach-ins about C-45, the Conservatives’ omnibus budget bill, which makes significant changes to the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act without First Nations consultation.
“Bill C 45 is not just about a budget, it is a direct attack on First Nations lands and on the bodies of water we all share from across this country,” says Sylvia McAdam, pointing out the reduction of environmental proections, and also that the bill decreases the consent required for the government to make changes to reserve lands.
In Alberta, Tanya Kappo organized an Idle No More event at the Louis Bull Cree Nation. Promoting the event through social media, Kappo drew 150 people to hear her and other organizers speak about the budget bill. Here is Kappo’s introduction from that night:
If you’ve been paying attention to Twitter recently, or if you read independent media like Rabble , you’ll know these gatherings were only the beginning. The hashtag went viral and started being used more broadly on Indigenous rights issues. On Tuesday, December 4 discussion of the hashtag came up at an Ottawa meeting of the Assembly of First Nations and soon National Chief Shawn Atleo called for a march to Parliament, which was voting on the bill. Read more
A couple of weeks ago I had the amazing honour, along with other members of the City of Vancouver’s Women’s Advisory Committee, to get to meet with the Nobel Women’s Initiative’s Breaking Ground delegation. Breaking Ground was an eight-day mission led by Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, who won the Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines, designed to “hear firsthand the growing concerns of women living in communities impacted by oil sands development and along the proposed Gateway pipeline route.” The delegation also included climate scientist Marianne Douglas, singer Sarah Harmer, Chris Page of the Center for Environmental Health in San Francisco, and North Dakota Native leader Kandi Mossett.
On Day 1 they went up in a small plane to look at the tar sands from above:
As they traveled along the pipeline route they spoke with leaders of the Nadleh Wu’ten and Saik’uz Nations and a number of Indigenous women whose communities will be most directly impacted. As Kandi Mossett stated after the trip:
“We heard in Fort McKay, Alberta, that the community had to live for five months on bottled water because they couldn’t drink the water out of the taps. Children in that community are also experiencing breathing problems because of the pollution coming out of the stacks. What compounds this reality is that the harsh impacts—including contaminated water and air—will only become worse and spread as the oil sands development worsens climate change.”
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.”
NGO Mama Hope worked with Gabriel, Benard, Brian and Derrik, the Kenyan men in this video, to challenge “the over-sensationalized, one-dimensional depictions of African men and the white savior messaging that permeates our media.”
I guess we can put all the talk about Johnny Depp “honoring” Native people to rest now. Cause it’s been over a month since those first horrendous publicity pics of Depp-as-Tonto surfaced, and more information has been trickling out about Depp’s “inspiration” for his lovely costume, and I think we’ll see just how careful, respectful and honoring Mr. Depp was with his “research” for his role.
As background, Depp has said in numerous interviews that wanted to change the role of Tonto, and wanted to “reinvent” the relationship between Indians and Hollywood. He also cited his Native heritage–“Cherokee or maybe Creek”–as part of his reasoning behind taking the role. In this clip from MTV news, Johnny describes his plans for Tonto’s character, which, out of context, actually sound pretty good:
He says in the clip:
“I like the idea of having the opportunity to sort of make fun of the idea of Indian as sidekick…throughout the history of hollywood, the Native American has always been the second class, third class, fourth class, fifth class citizen, and I don’t see Tonto that way at all. So it’s an opportunity for me to salute Native Americans.”
Based on all of these interviews, I was still holding out a shred of hope that there was some major piece of information I was missing, that maybe Johnny had actually done his research, or that maybe he had no control over the actual costuming of Tonto, and that all of this anger and blame should be placed on some wardrobe stylist on set. But Entertainment Weekly published a blog post on Sunday that confirmed what I had been arguing all along. Johnny Depp decided to “honor” Native peoples and “reinvent” our role in Hollywood by relying on the most tired and stereotypical tropes imaginable. Read more
On June 11, students from the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and the Schools of Social Work at Ryerson University and York University will be holding a walk for First Nation children’s cultural equity, on behalf of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
As the walk’s media release points out:
Aboriginal children lag behind their non-Aboriginal peers in academic performance and health status, and they are overrepresented in the child welfare system – there are approximately eight times more Aboriginal children in government care than other children. Aboriginal child welfare programs are chronically underfunded, preventing First Nations children from having the same chance to succeed. Some research indicates that Aboriginal child welfare receives 22% less funding than non-Aboriginal child welfare services.
Erinn Michèle Treff, the U of T organizer (and a former classmate of mine), said:
We are passionate about helping First Nations children because they are at a clear disadvantage. Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal children is shameful and well-documented. Society needs to tell the Government of Canada that enough is enough.
Participants will walk together to Queen’s Park where they will submit letters to the Prime Minister and/or MP in support of First Nations children. A mail box designed by children will be at the finish line for participants to post their letters.
If you’re in or around Toronto that week, consider taking part. Registration is free. Just email walkforFNchildren@gmail.com with your name and/or team members’ names, your organization (optional), and contact information. You can also check out the Facebook event page for more information. Their goal is to have over 500 people participate and to send over 1000 letters to the Prime Minister/Members of Parliament on this issue.