Indigenous Women in Canada Lead the Way

Tamarack Verrall
Posted June 6, 2019 from Canada

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

Comments 22

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Jill Langhus
Jun 06
Jun 06

Hello Dearest Tam,

I do hope you're feeling better now?! Thanks for taking the time, and energy, to post about this hugely informative, inspirational and historic report. At first I was sad to hear about all the missing, neglected or abused indigenous women, but you managed to focus on all the positive historical things occurring because of the report. It's great that these women are finally speaking up in a big way. I do hope that it's not too late for justice to be served, to stop these women from disappearing at high rates, and for their wonderful cultures to be preserved before it's too late. I also kept wondering if the same thing is occurring for indigenous women in the U.S., since there are so many similarities in neglect, abuse, genocide of the indigenous cultures there, too:-( I wonder what is being done for these women's, and people's rights.

Please keep us posted on the results of the report and any updates, as I'm sure you probably will.

I hope you feel much better soon, dear.

Tamarack Verrall
Jun 06
Jun 06

Thanks Jill,
Finally yes, thanks, I am well again and glad to be back. There is hope that positive things will happen from this report. A lot has to happen with police and the justice system. Regarding preservation of culture, a big step forward was made through the Government in Canada accepting a Truth and Reconciliation Agreement in 2015. But a lot has not been done too, in living up to those promises. A lot has to happen for follow through, but much has been agreed to. In the news today, there are Indigenous people in the US riding horses to draw attention to missing and murdered indigenous women in our neighbour country too.

Jill Langhus
Jun 07
Jun 07

You're welcome:-)

Oh, so glad to hear you're finally feeling better, dear!

Yes, it sounds like it.

That sounds really good about the 2015 agreement... well, in theory, then.

That's also great about the indigenous people riding in the U.S., too. Thanks for sharing that:-)

I do hope this gets taken seriously and that the murders end, and that their cultures are sustained for forever:-)

Hope you have a great Friday and weekend, dear!

Lisbeth
Jun 06
Jun 06

Dear Aunty Tam,
Its sad to hear what is happening among these group of people in your land. If you ask my opinion I did say is a barbaric and uncivilized act (excuse me to use these words).
What harm have these innocent indigenous women done to deserved these treatment? I also agreed with you that life is sacred and no body have a right to take another persons right. How?
Let me stop here before I get very sensitive. Thanks for sharing this with us. I hope you are doing very well. My warm and kind regards.
Hugs

Tamarack Verrall
Jun 06
Jun 06

Hi Lizzy,
Thanks for your thoughts and empathy. The situation calls for strong language and you are right to use the words barbaric and uncivilized. The report is strong and continues to be carried on the news here in Canada 2 days later. On a positive note, the "Moosehide Men" and the "Kind Men Movement" are calling on men to make changes and commit to work to end violence against women.
Hugs,
Tam

Urmila Chanam
Jun 06
Jun 06

Dearest sister Tamarack,
Thank you for bringing to light the organized elimination of indigenous women in Canada. Women are most vulnerable and double risk arises if there are cases of caste( in India), sexuality, choice of profession and socio-political instability or economic breakdown. I believe in Canada indigenous women experience double vulnerability. Just curious about how little or more percentage do they form of the total population of Canada and their occupancy in terms of land or region. What are the underlying reasons of their genocide?
Love your work and dedication to women's rights sister. March ahead.
Love and hugs
Urmila Chanam
India

Urmila Chanam
Jun 06
Jun 06

Dearest sister Tamarack,
Thank you for bringing to light the organized elimination of indigenous women in Canada. Women are most vulnerable and double risk arises if there are cases of caste( in India), sexuality, choice of profession and socio-political instability or economic breakdown. I believe in Canada indigenous women experience double vulnerability. Just curious about how little or more percentage do they form of the total population of Canada and their occupancy in terms of land or region. What are the underlying reasons of their genocide?
Love your work and dedication to women's rights sister. March ahead.
Love and hugs
Urmila Chanam
India

Z.Elias
Jun 06
Jun 06

Hello Tamarack,
Such an inspiring report hopefully full of fresh new beginnings for women kind especially indigenous women facing the no-acceptance in the society.
Please keep us updated about up coming dates of such eventual events so we can be part of it and encourage each one another.
Big up for all women of the world!
Thank you.

Tamarack Verrall
Jun 06
Jun 06

Thank you Z,
I'm so glad you caught the beautiful power that the speakers showed in their responses. I love your "Big Up"!
In sisterhood,
Tam

Hello, beloved Tam,

I'm glad you are now back on World Pulse. I hope you are feeling better completely.

What can I say? I love this comprehensive writeup on this presentation of reports for the missing and murdered indigenous women. Two-hundred thirteen women missing is a huge number. We are even restless when one woman disappears. This is alarming.

There are so many things I love about your post. I love that the presentation is inclusive through language translations. I love the observance of the ceremony. I worked with indigenous peoples group in the past. Reading about the ceremony reminds me how similar are the indigenous practices in our country. I love how the man approached you for reconcilation and forgiveness, how symbolic that was! I hope men in general will do that to women all over the world. Lastly, I love how powerful your statement is: 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.

Thank you so much, Tam! Hope you stay well and healthy because just as you said, " we are not finished until everyone is free". Hugs!

Tamarack Verrall
Jun 06
Jun 06

Hello dear sister,
Thank you for your well wishes, I am so glad to be feeling better and able to be back! And thank you for your supportive comments. I wanted to do this memorable meeting justice. The 213 women missing have gone missing in the 3 years the the Commission was doing its work travelling and listening. It is estimated that 4,000-5,000 are missing or murdered. I love that you deeply understand how special this meeting was, in the way the ceremony was conducted. The man did not approach me, this was a call by a metis man at the meeting for all men to consider their own behaviour and make apologies to any women they have harmed. I feel all the stronger knowing our arms are linked.
Big hug,
Tam

You're welcome, Tam. Yes, you wrote it so beautifully, it deserves to publish on the Commission's website as well. Oh wow, 4,000-5,000 women! That's too much injustice. :(

Thank you for the clarification, Tam. Yes, I understand how sacred gatherings like this are since I worked with indigenous peoples here, too.

Happy to know you are feeling better! Keep up to great work!

Harris Namutebi
Jun 07
Jun 07

Dear Tam,
It great to hear that women are at the front of taking action in ending violence and silence about missing women. Every step we take matters, together we can make positive change.
Regards
Harris

Tamarack Verrall
Jun 08
Jun 08

Hi Harris,
Thanks for adding your support for these women. They are leaders in their communities, and for the way forward for this country. So glad to have arms linked with you dear sister.

Asherah
Jun 07
Jun 07

Hi Tamarack,

I just recently read about the high rates of missing indigenous women. Thank you for sharing your/their story with us. I have found so many things seem to be "hidden" from public view/knowledge. It is imperative that we continue to a voice for those who are voiceless. Help those who are unseen be seen. Thank you for being such a voice!

Tamarack Verrall
Jun 08
Jun 08

Thanks Asherah,
I have learned so much from these strong Indigenous women leaders in Canada. They deserve more news coverage. Their description of what is possible is visionary.

Michelle Aslan
Jun 08
Jun 08

Dear Tam,

I was at the conference and it was life transforming at so many levels. There was so much talk about all the injustice and violence in the communities around the world and many of them had no basic necessities like food and drinking water. Many people admired how beautiful Canada is and what an amazing place to live. What most people didn't know was that there are many first nations communities in Canada that don't have drinking water. What I would like to see happen by the next 2022 conference is that all our First Nations communities have drinking water.

Your post got me thinking... Thank you.

Tamarack Verrall
Jun 08
Jun 08

Hi Michelle,
Thank you for your message, I really appreciate your support on this, and your perspective that safe water for all Indigenous communities here in Canada must be a government priority. And sound housing. And cleaning up the toxic messes by factories built upwind of Indigenous communities.
I've been following the conference on line, so glad to know you were there. I look forward to sharing information and collaborating with you. Welcome to World Pulse!
In sisterhood,
Tam

Michelle Aslan
Jun 09
Jun 09

Thank you Tam. I am thinking of starting a petition on Change.org to get safe drinking water for all Indigenous communities in Canada. I feel grateful to the First Nations people of Canada for being the keepers of this beautiful land.

I wish you a happy Sunday.

TRUFUSA ONGOYA
Jun 10
Jun 10

greetings

Seka
Jun 18
Jun 18

Bonjour Tam.
Vos histoires sont toujours marquantes. Cette marginalisation de ce peuple autochtone est à éradiquer. Nos encouragements à ces braves femmes visionnaires qui vont en avant pour que justice soit faite. Au plaisir d'entendre que les choses ne sont plus comme par le passé.
In sisterhood

Beth Lacey
Jun 19
Jun 19

It was great to be at Women Deliver and see and here these indigenous people and see Trudeau be supportive of them