CALGARY—Dec. 6, 1989, is a day when 14 women were massacred at École Polytechnique in an anti-feminist attack; it is now known as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. In Canada, this violence hasn’t changed, especially for Indigenous women.
Canada has accepted the violence tax Indigenous women and girls pay for being Indigenous and at times expects payment in the form of their lives. This human rights crisis has been ignored by this government, whose claims of feminism and reconciliation wear thin without the appropriate action and resources. Money talks, bullshit walks and this government dishes more of the latter than the former.
Where is the national action plan for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls?
That’s the question the MP from Winnipeg Centre, Man., Leah Gazan, asked Crown-Indigenous Minister Carolyn Bennett in the House of Commons on Dec. 7, which was also the 50th anniversary of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. The government was to table a national action plan for MMIWG on June 3, 2020, a year after the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, but abandoned the deadline, citing COVID. Instead, Bennett condescendingly replied that “our hearts are with all of the survivors and families of missing and murdered and two-spirited, gender diverse peoples,” as though that matters. No one should care about how the minister feels, only what the minister has failed to do. And failed she has.
Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately victimized by violence from a system that targets them for erasure through assimilation; estimates by Indigenous women’s groups count the number of MMIWG at 4,000 and a 2014 Amnesty International report states that Statistics Canada “suggests that the national homicide rate for Indigenous women is at least seven times higher than for non-Indigenous women.”
Much of this violence can be traced from the Doctrine of Discovery as a pretext to Canadians’ rapaciousness for the land. The Doctrine of Discovery “provided a philosophical framework for Christian explorers, to lay claim to territories uninhabited by Christians. Under this belief, title to lands lay with the government whose subjects travelled to and occupied a territory whose inhabitants were not subjects of a European Christian monarch.” No wonder the Liberals dragged their feet on UNDRIP, only to table a watered-down version after they failed to fix the longstanding problems of clean water on reserves. The tabled Bill C-15 is a remix of former NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s private member’s Bill C-262, introduced during the last Parliament, but subsequently quashed by a Conservative filibuster. Judith Sayers, from the Hupacasath First Nation, wrote in The Tyee, “What screamed at me is the noticeable lack of the word racism. Systemic racism. We have had Trudeau, Minister Bill Blair and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki all recognizing racism exists in all institutions including the justice system. Why the lack of the term racism?” Why, indeed.
Though the doctrine had been repudiated by the United Nations in 1960, Canada has yet to do so and never will, since that would make its claim to the lands of Canada more tenuous. It allowed the Canadian government cover to engage in colonialization through the Indian Act—a means to control the movement of Indigenous people and their alienation from their lands used to make Canada rich—which marginalized Indigenous women. As p. 251 of the first volume of the final Inquiry report reads: “The Indian Act also undermined women and girls and placed them into dangerous situations,” such as evicting “a woman and her children from her community, forcing her to commute or essentially sell off her rights if she married a man who did not also hold Status under the Indian Act.” As a result, many Indigenous women were forced to leave their community without sufficient resources, only a one-time payment of $50. And bad things happen to isolated and marginalized women—both through the system and individuals for whom Indigenous lives don’t matter. It’s the Tina Fontaine of it all.
The colonial erasure of Indigenous peoples led to the establishment of residential schools, forced sterilization of Indigenous women (as recently as 2018), the Sixties Scoop, birth alerts (only banned in Ontario, Manitoba, and B.C. within the last year, but still used by the Saskatchewan government) and the welfare system.
This government will never do anything about MMIWG because it’s not in the Canadian tradition to do so. Doing something would tacitly mean that the structures and laws that preceded it were invalid. People might then want to fix them and that puts Canada’s entire claim to the land it squats on—and makes money from—in jeopardy. And we can’t have that. Even Ottawa is on unceded and unsurrendered territory, which means it’s stolen.
Instead, this government will continue to feign compassion when it really means condescension and when enough time passes, and after enough protesting, it will dust off the recommendations from the MMIWG inquiry and present it as change.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.