November 13, 2019

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Violence against Indigenous women, girls is problem for all Canadians to solve

Opinion

In April 2015, then-RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson wrote a letter to Treaty 6 Nations grand chief Bernice Martial, responding to questions about the circumstances of death for murdered and missing Indigenous women.

"The consolidated data from the nearly 300 contributing police agencies," Paulson wrote, "has confirmed that 70 per cent of the offenders were of Aboriginal origin, 25 per cent were non-Aboriginal, and five per cent were of unknown ethnicity."

While Paulson admitted the number was actually a guess, as the RCMP has a "bias-free policing policy" where officers don’t identify the racial background of criminals, he made the claim anyways — framing Indigenous men as the primary killers of Indigenous women.

Lorelei Williams (second left) whose cousin Tanya Holyk was murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton and whose aunt Belinda Williams went missing in 1978, wipes away tears while seated with Rhiannon Bennett (from left), Sophie Merasty and Summer Rain Bentham at the released of the report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press files)

Lorelei Williams (second left) whose cousin Tanya Holyk was murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton and whose aunt Belinda Williams went missing in 1978, wipes away tears while seated with Rhiannon Bennett (from left), Sophie Merasty and Summer Rain Bentham at the released of the report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press files)

This number has become the linchpin for arguments that murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls are not a Canadian problem, but an Indigenous one. For instance, it was the primary argument then-minister of Aboriginal affairs Bernard Valcourt used to argue against a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — a claim he reiterated on social media again this week.

It’s also been used to undermine the finding of the inquiry that Canada has perpetrated genocide against Indigenous peoples, and continues to do so.

"The murder of Aboriginal females is largely confined to the Indigenous community," Hymie Rubenstein wrote this week in a National Post opinion piece to make the argument: "It wasn’t genocide."

The claim Indigenous men are the problem of MMIWG is misleading.

In a May 2015 Harvard University study on homicides in the United States, researchers determined most murderers were men, and "the vast majority of homicides are intraracial, with 84 per cent of white victims killed by whites and 93 per cent of black victims killed by blacks."

I therefore declare the primary reason white and black people die is because white and black men are a problem. We need not ask any more questions! Everyone watch out for white and black men, OK?

That’s nonsense.

Indigenous women and girls do not join the ranks of the murdered and missing because of Indigenous men, but because of the contexts they are in.

A person holds a photo of a lost family member at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

A person holds a photo of a lost family member at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

Most of these are dangerous situations imposed from circumstances brought on by poverty, abusive cycles and systems, and oppression. The No. 1 cause of these issues is the Indian Act — the largest part of Canada’s 150-year plan to control and dominate the lives of Indigenous peoples.

This is why the recent national inquiry found evidence of what constitutes an ongoing genocide.

The inquiry was clear in reminding Canadians the 70 per cent number is, in its commissioner’s words, "not factually-based."

Non-Indigenous Canadian men are perpetrators of some of the worst violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Want evidence?

Who are the majority of police officers who refused to investigate missing Indigenous women? Who are the majority of Canadian politicians who legislated laws that put Indigenous women and girls in dangerous situations? Who are the majority of government bureaucrats, chief executives, travellers and traders who have exploited Indigenous communities and preyed on Indigenous women while doing it?

The national inquiry, for example, directly connected Canada’s resource-extraction projects to the exploitation of Indigenous women and girls. They found an "increased rate of violence" in work camps near First Nations made up of "mostly non-Indigenous young men with high salaries and little to no stake in the host Indigenous community."

The opening procession of the release of the report for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

The opening procession of the release of the report for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

Violence against Indigenous women and girls is not an Indigenous problem, it’s a Canadian problem.

It’s also a male problem.

Are Indigenous men a part of the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women? Absolutely.

Many murders of Indigenous women and abuse of girls are committed by Indigenous men. Perpetrators are husbands, boyfriends, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, sons, and elders. I know many. I am related to them, as are all of us in the Indigenous community.

I don't know one Indigenous man who hasn't disrespected women at some point in their life. Myself included.

And, I know stories.

I’ve heard them about young girls abused in residential school by older boys.

I’ve heard them about grandfathers and uncles raping members of their family.

I’ve heard them about boyfriends and husbands torturing and ending the lives of their partners.

Indigenous men have been conditioned for years to mistreat Indigenous women. Much of this happened when our cultures and societies were undermined by governments, the churches, and in residential school.

During this time, many forgot traditional teachings that recognized the power and leadership of daughters, sisters, nieces, mothers, aunties, and grandmothers.

Through laws, pop culture, and media, most Indigenous men were taught to devalue women. We were encouraged to think only of ourselves, our needs and desires, and to get a job, run away, and make the most money possible.

Many Indigenous man have forgotten traditional teachings that recognized the power and leadership of daughters, sisters, nieces, mothers, aunts and grandmothers. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

Many Indigenous man have forgotten traditional teachings that recognized the power and leadership of daughters, sisters, nieces, mothers, aunts and grandmothers. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

When forces drove us to frustration and failure, we resorted to alcohol and violence to self-medicate and self-harm, hurting everyone else along the way.

Indigenous men have a lot of learning to do, and it begins with unlearning some of our most central lessons. We need to learn how to be kind and honourable and responsible to those around us. Then, we need to heal ourselves, and reach out to other Indigenous men and help them learn this, too.

This is why the national inquiry, in its calls for justice, recommended governments help make spaces and programs to support the development of healthy Indigenous men.

All of us, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have been a part of creating the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women.

If we stop distracting ourselves, we can be a part of creating the solution, too.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

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