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Canada: The ‘Disappearance’ of Native Women

Categories: North America, Canada, Human Rights, Indigenous, Politics, Women & Gender

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights [1].


Canadian women at the 19th Annual Missing Women's Memorial March in February 2010

As August 30 marked the International Day of the Disappeared [3], news from Canada that nearly 600 native women have gone missing over the past three decades has spread far [4] and wide [5] and throughout the Canadian blogosphere. Human rights activists claim that the Canadian government has not done enough to investigate the disappearances. Most of the women are thought to have been murdered. There is also suspicion that some may have been the victims of extra-judicial killings [6].

A racist system?

American blogger Kera Lovell was surprised [7] to learn of Canada's high rate of missing native women:

Everyone loves Canada, eh?  And no one can give you any specific details about Canada other than: two Olympics were held there, in Quebec they speak French, and, that it’s known for ice wine, ice hockey, and syrup.  And Michael Moore is from there.

But what about their issues?  Assuredly Canada deals with similar problems of race, class, gender, etc, but you never hear about Canada, so it must be fantastic there. Right?

I recently learned from this Rabble news article [8] posted on Racialicious [9] that Canada has a high rate of missing and murdered native women, totaling nearly 600 women over the past 25 years, and half since the year 2000. And more than half of these murders remain unsolved.  WTF?

Native American paper Indian Country Today is publishing a four-part series on the disappeared women. Part 4, published on August 25, discusses Canada's policies [10] toward its indigenous population in relation to the disappearances. In a comment on the post, NY Indian Girl writes:

A SYSTEM is to blame. That system has been planted in the minds of Natives in Canada, the U.S., etc. The system has become a mindeset of no self worth, forced assimilation, forced removal from homelands,etc. Just as the slaves had a systemic mindset put in them, the same was done to ALL Indigenous people. When your people are murdered for their land by a foreign nation and then forced to take on the thought process and lifestyle of that nation, it breaks down who you are and gives the oppressor the hold on you that is needed to keep you down. None of these people asked for what has befallen them. And once the cycle started, it has been hard to break. So do not put blame at the door of those who did not ask for what happened to them, put blame on those who stole from them and forced them to take on lives that were not and still are not their own. My ancestry is both of slaves and Native Americans, so I see both sides. Thanks for the story.

The role of the media

Blogger Patricia, writing for Citizen Shift, reporting on [11] a Montreal workshop on violence against women, writes of the media's role in the disappearances:

There are 520 cases of reported missing native women in Canada. What is so alarming, says Robertson is how the police and media fail to acknowledge this. “Native families don’t know who to turn to.” Robertson used a horrible example of three young native women who went missing in Quebec in 2006. Around the same time a lion cub disappeared from a zoo. This got a lot of coverage but the women’s stories did not. Police did not want to interfere because the reserves come under federal jurisdiction and these young women were from reserves. The story had a very tragic end when the body of Tiffany Morrison from Kahnawake was found this summer near the Mercier Bridge.

Trisha Baptie, writing for She Loves Magazine, calls on the public [12] to pay equal attention to the plight of indigenous Canadian women:

My Facebook news feed has been a constant stream of two things this past week: one is of a white, 30-something, tall (very tall, actually) man with size 16 feet named Tyler who went out hiking [13] two weeks ago and has not been seen nor heard from since. Tyler is great. We have many friends in common; he’s a pro hiker and I hope and believe he will be found soon…

…Truth be told there are hundreds of missing–mostly aboriginal–women all across Canada. What is different in these two stories is that there is no expense being spared for Tyler. In fact, there are fundraisers being held in the search for Tyler, yet no one is pulling out all the stops to find my sisters. In the words of Laura Holland, a member of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN): “My sisters, my perfect sisters were not considered perfect enough victims and witnesses for the Vancouver prosecutors and police.” And therein lies the problem. Understand this is a hard topic to tackle. Understand I want Tyler found. I pray he is safe. I want helicopters, infrared cameras, rescue teams and everything that can be used, to find him.

My question, though, is why society is not doing it for the women missing across this country? Why in the name of “unstable lifestyle” “addiction issues” “homeless” and “prostituted women” do we get to abandon them? Why is their marginalization by society the very excuse we use not to pursue them with all our heart. With God’s own heart? Didn’t he seek out the one sheep that got away from the flock? Isn’t Jesus’ take-home message Love the least of these?

Photo by nofutureface [14] made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license [15]

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights [1].