The Invisible Women of Canada – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Today is International Women’s Day.  I was going to write a post celebrating the women in my life who have influenced and shaped me for good and for ill.

But I’m not.

Because there are women in my country, Canada, who need support.  Because the current Conservative government is failing each and every one of them.

I’m talking about the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Photo credit Amnesty.CA

Photo credit Amnesty.CA

According to Canadian government statistics, Indigenous women are five times to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented more than 580 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, most within the last three decades. Because of gaps in police and government reporting, the actual numbers may be much higher.

Canadian police and public officials have also long been aware of a pattern of racist, sexist violence against First Nations, Inuit and Metis women in their homes and on the streets. But government response has been shockingly out of step with the scale and severity this tragedy.  []

I like to consider myself fairly informed.  I am politically aware, I read the postings on Facebook groups that deal with topics such as Feminism, Racism, Religion and Gender.

The treatment of Indigenous people here in Canada shames us worldwide.  I have seen and heard the racism that Indigenous people face day to day in this country.  That the Government isn’t listening  to them and is just going about it’s merry settler ways saying “We know what’s best for you.”   See Education Reform

I didn’t, however, know about the missing and murdered Indigenous women.  I had never heard that this was such an epidemic until last year when I was exposed to an ad in my local mall sharing the stories and photos of some of those women.

From the Native Women’s Association of Canada:

Through the five-year Sisters in Spirit initiative (2005 – 2010), NWAC was able to identify 582 missing and/or murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. Continued tracking of occurrences have indicated that the numbers continue to climb; recent reports now list over 800 incidents of missing or murdered Aboriginal women and girls. 

On February 14, 2014, NWAC delivered a petition signed by over 23,000 Canadians in support of NWAC’s call for a National Public Inquiry and National Action Plan.

How had I never come across this before?  Where are the news stories, the outraged editorials, the petitions and the protests by the general public?  How can we justify ignoring what is happening in our own country but devote so much time and effort to fighting injustices in other parts of the world?  How do people NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?

Media Portrayls of Missing And Indigenous Women gathers together information on why media pays so little, or so biased, attention.

In her essay ”Symbolic and Discursive Violence in Media Representations of Aboriginal Missing and Murdered Women” Jiwani studied seven years’ worth of articles about Aboriginal women in the Globe and Mail. She found that coverage of Aboriginal women clustered around stories of violence, conflicts with band governments, custody cases, poverty and poor health status. Overall, Aboriginal women were portrayed as “abject victims of poverty” and “inept drug addicted mothers who did not seem to be capable of maternal feeling.” She argues that these stereotypes emerge not only because of the topics that made news, but because little social or historical context is ever given to explain the causes or circumstances. Instead there is a tendency to focus on how benevolent government agencies are trying to help. She writes “this kind of reportage seals a particularly criminalizing representation of Aboriginal identity.” Even stories that highlight the success of Aboriginal women tend to reinforce this stereotype by making the women appear exceptional only because they have escaped the trappings of their culture.

Our current Conservative government is failing Canada’s Indigenous population.  Even the UN is condemning us on human rights.    “James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, painted a grim picture of the conditions facing First Nations, saying Canada is facing a “crisis” when it comes to its treatment of indigenous people.” – CBC.CA  “Anaya also called on the federal government to launch a “comprehensive and nationwide” inquiry into the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women, something the federal government has so far refused to do.”

In fact, just over the last few days, the Conservative government over the protest of both Liberal and NDP supporters, tabled documents asking for that same inquiry.

“Aboriginal affairs minister Bernard Valcourt says he believes an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women will do nothing to stop the violent epidemic.

Asked Thursday on Parliament Hill whether he understands why women’s and aboriginal groups continue to press for an inquiry, Valcourt replied: “Yeah, because, you know, they have this idea that by further study, we can solve the issues. And that will do nothing like that.”  Link to story here.

The words I would use to describe this man are not fit for this page.

The words I would use to describe this man are not fit for this page.

Then he goes on to say this:  “I mean, we all know what the problem is. The question is… now, what actions will you take to solve it?”  

Valcourt was asked to clarify – what exactly, reporters asked, is the problem?

“What is the problem? Well, I mean, if you don’t know what the problem is, I mean, you know, you’re not Canadian,” he said.

WHAAAT?  I’m Canadian.  I don’t know what the problem is.  And I especially don’t know what the problem is with having an inquiry, with taking steps towards finding out what’s happening when something is so horribly, horribly wrong.

The report of the Special Committee on Violence against Indigenous Women released in Parliament today, acknowledges that First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls face much higher rates of violence than all other women in Canada.

However, the report, prepared by the majority Conservative members of the Committee, fails to call for the critical steps that must be taken to bring this crisis to an end.

Like the report released by the Parliamentary Committee on the Status of Women in December 2011, the report endorses existing government initiatives while vaguely calling for “further examination” of other issues. No indication was given about how or when the Committee members think such “examination” should take place. Concrete proposals for action presented by Indigenous women’s organizations and families of missing and murdered women are ignored.

“Indigenous women and girls – and indeed all Canadians – deserve better from our Parliament,” said Alex Neve, Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada (English Speaking). “Government ministers keep saying that they want action, not just talk, on violence against Indigenous women. But when given the opportunity to make a commitment to meaningful action, the government keeps endorsing the status quo.”  Amnesty.CA

Conservatives Reject Inquiry – Toronto Star

No Call For National Inquiry – CBC

Loretta Saunders

Loretta Saunders

You may have heard about Loretta Saunders.  Saunders was an Inuk student working on a thesis about missing and murdered Indigenous women when she disappeared.  Her body was later found on the trans Canada highway in New Brunswick.  She was 26 and pregnant.  More information HERE.


Or what about the Highway of Tears?   In British Columbia a series of murders along the stretch of highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George has given it that name.  To be honest, I had never heard of it until doing research for this blog post.  I’m learning as I write.

Most of the missing/murdered cases do not grab international headlines.  They don’t even grab national or local headlines.

How much do you know about human trafficking in Canada?  Indigenous women and girls are especially vulnerable.

I am a white woman living in Canada, and with that comes a fair amount of privilege.  I don’t know what it is like to live as Indigenous people in this country, but I can listen and I can learn from their voices.  I can read their stories and share  the words with others.  I can lend my voice to them when they ask of it, or be a silent ally when it is required.  I am hoping that this blog entry will give some people pause and that they will follow the links and learn the stories of these women as well.  I don’t have the ability to support financially, or in other ways but this one.  To use my small space on the internet to boost their signal – and bring more allies to the cause.

Because this, this is a fucking travesty.  We should all be angry and ashamed at our government’s response to the crisis.  We should take a good hard look at our privilege and move over to make room for the voices of Canada’s Indigenous people to be heard.

So for International Women’s Day today I urge you to read, to learn, and to support.

If you’ve read my post and want to get involved or learn more, here are some links to get you started.

Native Women’s Association Of Canada

No More Stolen Sisters – Amnesty International Canada

Idle No More

Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women FB Page

Women’s memorial March on February 14

Walking With Our Sisters

Not Murdered and Not Missing:  Rebelling Against Colonial Gender Violence

#ItEndsHere Campaign – Articles with that tag

I’ve given a lot of information, but I know there to be much, much more.  Please, if I have missed linking to any important groups let me know in the comments below and I will add the link to the list ASAP.


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