Funding for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A Let Down by ALL Parties
In this battle that must be waged between our peoples and our colonizers (Canada and the provinces), there can no deal-making, settling, or backroom political deals for less than what is necessary to ensure the well-being of our peoples now AND into the future. There is no job, grant, contract, position, or level of public fame that is worth giving up our rights and responsibilities as Mi'kmaq, Cree, Mohawk or Maliseet peoples to our future generations. There was a time when we as Indigenous peoples knew this instinctively and wouldn't give all the colonizer's enticements a second thought.
Today however, the bright spirits of our peoples have been dimmed by the dark cloud under which our generations have lived for a very long time. Multiple generations of our peoples have been living under colonial rule and suffering the losses of our lands, identities, traditions, values, and world-views, as well as our sense of responsibility to ourselves and each other. This has been compounded by the historical and current physical and emotional harms imposed by our colonizers. These actions are well-known and include assimilatory laws, policies, and state actions like residential schools, day schools, the Indian Act, discriminatory laws, the 60's scoop, overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care and our men in prisons, deaths in police custody, starlight tours, racial profiling, and many other CURRENT state actions.
Taiaiake Alfred, an Indigenous scholar and thinker speaks about the various stages of de-colonization in which we find ourselves in his book Wasase. This makes our collective recognition of systemic colonizing forces and assimilation much more difficult to counter, but not impossible. He stresses the fact that we MUST "move from the materialist orientation of our politics" and act to restore the "spiritual foundation" of our peoples that will restore our strength and unity.
Alfred explains that the underlying problem today is that: "We are separated from the sources of our goodness and power: from each other, our cultures, and our lands." Further, he argues that by "emulating white people" in order to gain acceptance and meet colonial ideas about success has not brought our peoples or our Nations peace, happiness, well-being, or any sense of the "good life" espoused by liberals.
It is in this light that I have considered the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada and the relevance of the funding announcement that has been made. Some have celebrated this announcement by the Status of Women Canada for $10 million dollars over two years, which in fact has now been made 3 times, by different politicians without a single dime being spent to date. Now that Canada has provided more specifics about where this funding will be allocated I am, quite frankly, shocked that NWAC would support such an announcement.
NWAC was originally formed to advocate on behalf of Indigenous women in Canada with a specific mandate to "enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Metis women". Equality was one of their main focuses. In fact, if you read their submission to Parliament on Bill C-3 (status) they indicated that this Bill needed to be amended to address the full extent of gender inequality in the Indian Act. Their submission regarding Bill S-4 (matrimonial real property) advocated for much more meaningful legislation that would provide real access to justice for Indigenous women.
Even NWAC's latest report on the murdered and and missing Indigenous women in Canada highlighted the fact that "Violence is perpetuated through apathy and indifference towards Aboriginal women, and stems from the ongoing impacts of colonialism in Canada." Specifically, NWAC noted that the Indian Act "has created ongoing barriers to citizenship for Aboriginal women and their children". Yet, despite an acknowledgement of the actual sources of the social problems currently experienced by Indigenous women, NWAC stood publicly in support of this $10 million dollar funding announcement which did more to fund police services than any root causes of violence against Indigenous women. According to those involved in the legislative process for Bills C-3 and S-4, NWAC has flip-flopped and now also supports those bills.
While none of the print or TV media services have provided an exact breakdown of where the funding dollars will be distributed, it appears from what I have read that the majority of the funds will go to "law enforcement and the justice system". This includes a new National Police Support Services Centre for Missing Persons, a national tip website, enhancement of the Canadian Police Information Centre, amendments to the Criminal Code (no doubt without consultation), and the development of a list of best practices for police. An undetermined amount of funds will go towards culturally appropriate victim services, awareness materials for schools, and community safety plans.
The Parliamentary Secretary Shelly Glover (not surprisingly given her extensive police background) explained that the funds were meant to "address issues of crime and safety". Even Minister for the Status of Women Canada, Rona Ambrose repeatedly characterized Indigenous women as "victims" and their communities as "unsafe" during her press statement. The Conservative government's solution to that situation is increased criminal laws and expanded powers for police.
As with all issues currently facing Indigenous peoples, the state reduces them to one of criminalization. Whether it is equality for Indigenous women, the treaty right to fish in Mi'kmaq territory, protecting land claims in Caledonia, or standing guard for the sacred resting places of our ancestors in Oka - Indigenous peoples are characterized as criminals, forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money in the courts, and are constantly portrayed in the media as welfare-dependent deviants that pose safety and financial concerns for Canadians.
This funding announcement amounts to little more than the promotion of our Indigenous peoples and Nations as criminals and by providing funds to police for services - as if this will bring the problem under control. Indigenous peoples are already over-represented in prisons and I don't know how many more can fit into our current prison system - but then again - the Conservatives want to spend millions building new prisons, so that may help silence the rest of us.
Some readers will find this blog harsh and may even suggest that my comments are naive or out of touch with reality. Some will even say that in politics, some deal is better than no deal. I can assure you all, I am far from naive and I can see enough "reality" to know that what awaits Indigenous peoples and their Nations on the other side of this colonial fog is never-ending compromise and eventual assimilation.
Some will say that something better than nothing - but why? Why is something better than nothing and how do you define "something" and "nothing"? If "something" is defined as funding for a staff position at a national organization for one year, a research project that will end in another report, or school materials that will promote a negative view of Indigenous peoples, then how is "something" better than "nothing"? This is especially true if "nothing" is defined as our dignity, our pride, and respect for both our rights and responsibilities to both our ancestors and future generations?
To my mind, what it means to be Mi'kmaq or Mohawk has been defined as nothing, worthless, criminal, and even pagan for far too long. Out of our "nothing" has come brave battles to protect our lands, treaties to protect our rights, and the survival of our peoples against all odds. Our "nothing" has spawned generations of passionate volunteers and advocates who work day in and day out to effect change for our peoples. Our "nothing" has resulted in the Oka stand-off that was televised all over the world and was a source of extreme pride and revitalization for Indigenous identities in North America.
I would rather have lots of that "nothing" to share with my children than all the "somethings" that would lead to their eventual assimilation. Our children are not committing suicide, becoming involved in gangs, and relying on drugs and alcohol to drown their pains because they are concerned about whether they will get a management job at Irving Oil, a labourer job at the Tar Sands, or a seat in the Senate. These children are lost because they have no sense of who they are, their vibrant history, their special languages, their unique cultures and worldviews or how important their roles are to restoring the power of their Nations. They have no idea how incredibility special they are as Indigenous peoples.
Our children have seen enough sell-outs in their time. They need mentors, visionaries, and real leaders to stand up for them and help guide them along so they can lead the way for our future generations. Our ancestors made incredible sacrifices so that we could get through this long, dark period. They foresaw that the seventh generation would lead their Nations out of colonization and revitalize our systems of government, laws, practices and beliefes in ways which have meaning in modern times. We have a responsibility to stand on our traditional values and principles and stop trading our children's future for trinkets.
NWAC is not the only national Aboriginal organization to have lost sight of what was envisioned in the 1960's and 70's for these organizations. While NWAC's actions in bringing this issue to the forefront are commendable and indeed necessary, their follow-up actions don't match their words. It is of no value for NWAC to opposed BIll C-3 for lack of equality and then accept it later on. Similarly, there is no amount of funding that will affect real change in violence against Indigenous women if it is all directed towards policing and not at the root causes of this inequality (like those noted in NWAC's report).
Our collective reaction to and rejection of the 1969 White Paper which called for our assimilation once and and for all is a testament to the real collective action of which we are all capable. Criminilizing our Indigenous men will never bring about equality for our Indigenous women. Shame on Canada for continuing to criminalize our peoples and on NWAC for settling for it.