Canada: National clamour for the missing and murdered aboriginal women

March in honour of Canadian
murdered and missing native women
in Vancouver.
(Photo: Nofutureface/Flickr)

The Sisters in Spirit, part of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, dedicated this Tuesday, like every Oct. 4 since 2005, as a day of vigil to honour the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, with rallies and other events in nine provinces including Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia as well as the Northwest Territories.

To this point in 2011, the Sisters in Spirit project has documented 582 missing aboriginal women. Researchers suspect the real number is much higher.

NWAC has presented the federal Conservative government with a set of recommendations to address the immediate and structural roots of this terrible problem.

In particular, NWAC demanded training for police and justice officials about aboriginal women’s issues so that access to justice is possible; collection of information – and dissemination of that information – to aboriginal families, communities, and support services for preventive purposes; stable funding to front line organizations that provide critical support services – in an appropriate cultural setting – for aboriginal women whether on reserves, in transit, or in cities; investment in aboriginal child services; and addressing the root cause of aboriginal poverty that leads aboriginal women into high risk environments where violence is so possible.

In response, the federal government committed 10 million dollars in 2010 for a five year period to address violence against aboriginal women. It’s a disturbing fact that most of this money is going to police forces to work on all missing persons cases. In the case of NWAC, the Conservatives also held back the grant for Sisters in Spirit.

“Killed in their homes and in the streets, on and off reservations, by acquaintances and by strangers, Aboriginal women are the victims of an unmistakable epidemic of violence,” wrote journalist Martin Lukacs on his blog at The Huffington Post website.

“They are five times more likely to die violently than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. […] The Canadian government's expressions scarcely mask a truth written out in their policies and inaction: these women are disposable. If 600 white middle-class women went missing it would be treated like a national crisis. […] An Aboriginal woman's disappearance, on the other hand, receives no comparable attention,” Lukacs added.

A joint statement read out at the Canada-wide vigils sayd violence experienced by aboriginal women and girls is a national tragedy that deserves more attention.

“The disappearance and murder of our aboriginal sisters is felt nationwide, with countless First Nations, Inuit and Métis families and communities grappling with the loss of a loved one and struggling to find answers,” it says.

The joint statement, signed by several civil society organizations – among them the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA, one of the focal points of Social Watch in that country) – reads as follows:


Joint statement

Each year on October 4th communities across Canada come together to honour the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. As we do so, we remember the lives of sisters, daughters, mothers and grandmothers tragically taken from us.

Today, we offer our support and sympathy to their families and we join with them in demanding justice.

Statistics consistently show that Aboriginal women face much higher levels of violence than all other women in Canada. The Native Women's Association of Canada has documented more than 600 cases of Aboriginal women and girls who have been murdered or who remain missing.

This violence has touched the lives of almost every First Nations, Inuit and Métis family and community. And it has moved Canadians from all walks of life to demand action. Violence against Aboriginal women is a national issue, one that must concern us all.

There can be no piecemeal solution to a tragedy of this scale. We are calling for all levels of government to work with Aboriginal women and representative organizations to establish a comprehensive, national plan of action to stop violence against women. Such a plan of action must:

Ensure Indigenous women's access to justice, including effective and unbiased police response to all cases of missing and murdered women and new investigations of cases where police misconduct has occurred;

Improve public awareness and accountability through the consistent collection and publication of comprehensive national statistics on rates of violent crime against Indigenous women;

Provide adequate, stable funding to the frontline organizations that provide culturally-appropriate services such as shelter, support and counseling for Indigenous women and girls and their communities;

Address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, including by closing the economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people;

Eliminate inequalities in the services available to Aboriginal children, in particular, through the child welfare system.

Along with this call for action, we express our sincere thanks and gratitude to the families. Many are here today and we thank them for sharing their stories. You are the reason we continue to demand action. We are honoured to walk beside you on this journey!

Moreover, we acknowledge that families must take the lead in this movement. Their stories need to be heard, and their initiatives supported. Relationships must be nurtured and further strengthened with other families, as well as with grassroots women and men, organizations, and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities across Turtle Island.

This Joint Statement is supported by:
Amnesty International Canada
Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS)
Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA)
Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW)
Families of Sisters In Spirit (FSIS)
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Minwaashin Lodge
Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC)
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)
Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)
Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Area: Work, Educate and Resists (POWER)
Project of Heart

This information is based on data from the following sources:
CBA Canada:
Canadian Union of Postal Workers:
Martin Lukacs’ blog on The Huffington Post (Canada):
Socialist Solidarity: