This past Monday was a big day in Canada. While preparations were being made on the west coast to open the global conference Women Deliver 2019, in the Nation’s Capital region indigenous women presented a long awaited report to the Canadian Government on missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) in Canada. For many years now indigenous women have been disappearing and/or found murdered, blatantly at rates higher than non indigenous women, with response from the police ranging from ineffective to complicit. For three and a half years the women who formed the Inquiry Committee travelled across Canada to hear from those who had lost women and girls from their communities. The messages at Monday’s hearing were clear. The lives of each woman and girl matters. They live on, in the hearts of all who knew them. The message was also that despite this Inquiry, the violence continues. 213 have gone missing while the Inquiry was at work.
The results of the Inquiry were presented to the Government not as recommendations, but as requirements. Hard questions were put. Will real work replace promises? The Inquiry report is full of down to earth examples of what can be done. Beyond a challenge for action by our Government, this was a call for action by all Canadians. Our Government was challenged with taking part in one of the recognized forms of genocide. Genocide by inaction when awareness of a problem that clearly needed attention is met with inaction. Genocide from past action toward indigenous women, such as forced sterilization, children stolen into foster care, dismissive treatment by police, including complicity, and ineffective and prejudiced court systems. Women spoke up, one after the other, for the respect and safety of indigenous women in this country. Powerful messages were given: “When you break the back of a woman, you break the community”.
It was noted that this hearing of the work of this Inquiry was taking place on a New Moon, and that earlier a sunrise pipe and water ceremony had been held at a sacred fire. It was noted that this hearing was taking place while this new moon was in the constellation of Gemini, known for aiding in speaking the truth. Women were in traditional dress, stitching and beading woven into the clothes they were wearing in memory of loved ones dead or missing. The meeting was simultaneously translated into English, French, Innu, Inuk, Cree, Anishinaabe, Mi’Kmaq, Metis and sign language. It began with a Walk of Truth, women leaders following the Eagle Staff that’d made the journey to all of the provinces, 7 walks across Canada and 3 along the Trail of Tears where so many young Indigenous woman have disappeared.
We were reminded of the importance of ceremony, which brings people together to learn from each other. We were reminded that change is necessary for the next generation. We were reminded of the sacredness of life and the sacredness of the women who have lost their lives, and of the unity needed for us to work all together. A man from the Kind Men Movement challenged men to change their hearts, to forgive themselves and to ask for forgiveness from those they have harmed. A prayer was offered to lift the veil of indifference, ambivalence, ignorance and attitudes of uncaring. We were called to action and reminded that safety is an inherent right. And that that right is for us to be able to see children grow up having a safe life, for there to be justice, and for those harmed not to be neglected or forgotten.
The history of Canada, the colonization of Indigenous peoples was challenged. A relationship which was to have been created in peace, friendship and trust, which became instead one of broken promises, destruction and genocide. There was a call for the truth to be taught, rights to be upheld, and for us all to value ways of life that includes housing, safety, clean water and protection of the land. The Circle of Grandmothers spoke, as the carriers of traditional knowledge, with the message that all of the violence must stop.
Throughout the ceremony, others who are also particularly vulnerable to violence, discrimination and lack of protection were repeatedly mentioned, specifically the 2SLGBTQGIA (Two Spirited, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transfolk, Queer, Gay, Intersex and Asexual) people. People who choose to live outside the expected norms. The courage of survivors was praised as creating the momentum to rewrite Canadian history in a good way, an accurate way, and to change makers and survivors the message was sent out: “We wrap you in love, hope and wisdom”.
In closing remarks, Chief Marion Bullard charged the Canadian Government with recognizing that the violations and abuses perpetuated historically, designed by the Canadian Government to displace Indigenous people from their lands and governments, and by eradicating their customs, has led to what is taking place today. She called for an absolute paradigm shift to dismantle colonization in Canada, for this Government to be held in account, and for all of us to learn and speak out about the true history of Canada. The commission has exposed hard truths about the devastating impacts of colonization, racism and sexism—aspects of Canadian society that many Canadians are reluctant to accept.
What was extraordinary about this event was to witness such strong, clear leadership of women. For a whole morning I watched as women leaders came forward with visionary ideas of what is possible. Leadership that reminds us all that change does not happen by a few new positions for women in top jobs. Every step is to be celebrated. But real change happens when those who are suffering most in this world, from male dominance, from poverty, from lands ruined and waters poisoned, are made the priority. This is what I loved about the Commission report. This is what I love about the work being done by so many here in World Pulse. Just as I am so encouraged by the strong indigenous women leaders here in my country, I remain so encouraged by all of you here within World Pulse. We are not finished until everyone is free. But together we are creating this change.
for more on the Inquiry: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca