By: Elsbeth Mehrer, Director External Relations, YWCA of Calgary
We applaud this week’s announcement of a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
At last, we believe, this government of Canada recognizes the depth of the traumatic experiences of Aboriginal women and their families. This is Canada’s national tragedy.
According to Statistics Canada, aboriginal women 15 years and older are 3.5 times more likely to face violence than non-aboriginal women. Native Women’s Association of Canada’s research indicates that, between 2000 and 2008, Aboriginal women and girls represented approximately 10% of all female homicides in Canada. However, Aboriginal women make up only 3% of the female population. Most of the cases occurred in the west with Alberta behind only British Columbia as a point of origin. In cases where information is known, NWAC estimates more than 70 per cent occurred in urban areas.
Shoulder to shoulder, three federal ministers – Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu – affirmed this inquiry will be different.
It must be.
In our work at the YWCA of Calgary, we see the disproportional representation of Aboriginal women, including women whose aunties, cousins, sisters and family members are among the missing and murdered. The faces of women in our emergency shelter programs are lined with pain: of the moment and of years and past generations.
“If you want to see the effects of colonization, come visit a homeless shelter,” Minister Hajdu, who prior to her election ran a shelter in northern Ontario, said in a media interview. “The effects of residential schools, displacement, policies that contribute to the economic and social suffering by First Nations communities, communities that don’t have equitable service or education — they’re victims of our history of colonization
We offer our enduring support to the families of the stolen sisters, dedicated Aboriginal women’s organizations including the Awo Taan Healing Lodge and the Sisters in Spirit Committee in Calgary and, through YWCA Canada, to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, NWAC.
The voices of Aboriginal women and their families must continue to be at the heart of this inquiry: in its design and its leadership. Its mandate must extend beyond recommendations on how to stop the violence and delve deeper into the roots of vulnerability: systemic racism, educational inequities, poverty.
Indeed this inquiry is an important milestone in addressing the hate, discrimination and abuse experienced disproportionally by First Nations, Inuit and Metis women.
It’s important to all of us.