In Canada, Native women disappear, bodies never counted!

In 2008, Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander, two young indigenous women, disappeared in the Maniwaki area in Quebec. Their wallets and clothes were found but not their bodies. Despite claims to the contrary, the indigenous and Quebecois authorities took very little action to find them. Meanwhile, at the same time in the same area, the resources to find a young white runaway boy addicted to video game were easily gathered with Microsoft offering $50 000. There were no such resources available for two young indigenous women.

Last July, James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, released a report that exposed the “unresolved” issues at the basis of the socio economic gap between the non-indigenous and indigenous populations in Canada. Among these issues lies the increasingly precarious situation of Native women and their high vulnerability to sexual violence and murder. The report denounces the lack of “effective actions to address the problem of missing indigenous women and girls.” The report also points out the current issues of treaty negotiations as the indigenous land has become the target of non-indigenous mining and dam building.

About 2 000 indigenous young women have disappeared or been killed between 1980 and 2012 in Canada in the authorities’ indifference. The bodies of 90% of them have been found; still the code of silence prevails. It would be as if 55 000 women in France had disappeared or been murdered and the State did absolutely nothing. According to French journalist Emmanuelle Walter, that would not be tolerated. In her recent book, she describes Canada’s policy toward missing and murdered indigenous women as femicide.

Walter’s investigation took her back into the history of conquest and destruction of the Amerindian communities. She notes that the European patriarchal misogyny has contaminated Native men. Indian laws dictated by the colonizers affected the status of indigenous women. Moreover, the politics of assimilation that the Canadian government implemented in the 19th century were politics of elimination. In Canada, like in the United States, boarding schools were in charge of removing the indigenous culture with extreme violence, including sexual violence. It is estimated that 150 000 indigenous children were boarded in these schools during 150 years. This colonial past is not resolved and allows this indifference to the fate of indigenous women and girls.

In her book Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith established the correlation between land conquest and sexual violence as a genocidal instrument. With the ongoing conquest of underground lands in Canada by energy and mining special interests, Smith’s argument that “sexual violence is a tool by which certain peoples become marked as inherently “rapable” is most important to remember.

When Stephen Harper became the prime minister of Canada in 2006, he immediately abolished social programs for indigenous people. Then, his C45 Law project to modify the environmental laws that protected the indigenous land and populations was introduced. The same government downplayed the attacks on indigenous women, treating them as isolated crimes. These connections must be recognized to allow a better understanding of the situation of indigenous people in Canada and elsewhere. Indigenous people are fighting on every front.

Indigenous women don’t want to be the victims and live in fear. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has organized actions to expose this femicide. After the murder of another young indigenous woman last summer, indigenous women defied the Prime Minister Harper with a series of photos of women holding a sign that says “Am I next?”

They demand a nationwide inquiry with financial means attached to it and in consultation with indigenous women. But, as Michelle Audette from NWAC underlined, “The government refused the visit of the UN Rapporteur. Do you think it is going to receive our demands?”

That is why the organizing and actions to break the code of silence and recognize this femicide are not weakening and must be made visible.

(Photo Credit: Humber News)

Indigenous women liberate the Americas

Sheyla Juruna

Indigenous people are trying to liberate the Americas, and they are led by women. In Brazil yesterday, hundreds of indigenous leaders, fisherfolk and others from the Xingu River basin gathered to occupy the Belo Monte Dam construction site in a peaceful protest to stop its construction in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Belo Monte is one of those mega-dams that cost billions of dollars, displace whole communities, wipe out acres and acres of forest, all in the name of “necessary energy production.”

Ealier this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights tried to create a space for the indigenous communities, and their supporters, and the Brazilian government to enter into dialogue. The Juruna people sent their leader, Sheyla Juruna, who travelled days to get to Washington. The much wealthier, much more popular, and much better resourced Brazilian government sent … no one.

And so indigenous communities of the Xingu, and their supporters, took to the dam site, and they were, and are, led by women. Sheyla Juruna. Juma Xipaia. Roberta Amanajás. Antonia Melo. Some, like Juruna and Xiapaia, are indigenous leaders. Some, like Amanajás, are human rights advocates and activists. Some, like Melo, are leaders of movements, in this instance the Xingu Forever Alive Movement.

Cherokee feminist activist and author Andrea Smith once wrote, “The primary reason for the continuing genocide of Native peoples has less to do with ignorance and more to do with material conditions. Non-Indians continue to oppress Indians because Indians occupy land resources that the dominant society wants.”

The indigenous women leaders and communities of the Xingu River basin know, and live, this history today. They know the genocide takes many forms. Sometimes it’s flat out extermination campaigns. At other times, it’s removal, person by person, nation by nation, child by child.

In the United States, for example, a Federal law states that if Native American children are taken from their homes, they must be placed with their family members, relatives, their tribes or other Native Americans. And native children are taken from their homes, at a much higher rate than children of other races and communities. Some studies suggest the rate is twice as high. Furthermore, of the native children taken from their homes, a remarkably low percentage have experienced sexual or physical abuse. So, why are they taken? “For their own good” … of course.

A report this week highlighted the situation of these stolen children in South Dakota. Nearly 90 percent are placed in non-Native households or group settings. Those non-native group settings are private, and making good profit off of the “poor” native children.

Who cares? Well, the children care. Their families care. Their communities care. And while the caring of the children isn’t particularly gendered, the caring by the adults is. Women. Women like Janice Howe, a grandmother who refused to let the State get away with kidnapping, who fought for over a year and a half to get her grandkids back. Four children, including Antoinette, 6 years old, and Raushana, 5 years old. When they returned, 18 months later, they were each a full dress size smaller. Only now are the stories of their sojourn beginning to emerge.

There are native Grandmothers’ Groups, native foster home providers, native foster parents, tribal social workers, and they are everywhere on the reservation. There are also mothers who mourn and wait and, if they’re very “lucky”, may, just may some day meet their children. In the case of Dwayne Stenstrom, kidnapped by the State at the age of 8 years old, this reunion occurred decades later … six months before his mother died of cancer.

And no one ever receives an apology, ever receives an acknowledgment. This is what military occupation looks like.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread, or effloresced, across the United States and Canada, indigenous people across both countries have criticized the term “occupation”. Some have suggested replacing it with “decolonize” or “(un)occupy”, others have noted the painful nationalism and racism of their supposed, or potential, allies in the current movement.

And others have said, instead, “Defend Mother Earth.” At the Belo Monte Dam site yesterday, Juma Xipaia explained, “We will not be silent. We will shout out loud and we will do it now.” The Mothers, Grandmothers, Daughters, Sisters, Aunts, Women are gathering, out loud, now, to Defend Mother Earth. Another occupation is possible. Shout out loud, do it now.

 

(Photo Credit: Amazon Watch)

Regret haunts the world

Regret is in the air this week. You might say, regret is the name of the game and, even more, the game of the name. From Geneva to the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in Zimbabwe, to Guinea, it’s been a week of declarations of regret.

On Monday, in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, thousands gathered in peaceful, and courageous, protest, to demonstrate their opposition to the military dictatorship of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who seized power in a military coup last December. Reports suggest that as many as 157 people were killed by soldiers who opened fire on them. Survivors and witnesses also reported, “A number of women taking part in the demonstration were stripped naked and sexually assaulted by security forces”. This has been described as “most shocking to the wearied citizens in this predominantly Muslim nation” who were “`profoundly traumatized’ by what had happened to the women in the stadium”.

The government of neighboring Liberia, a country that knows something about militarized sexual violence, issued a statement: ““The government of the Republic of Liberia has expressed grave concern at the events unfolding in neighboring Republic of Guinea, and has learned with profound regrets of the deaths of over 90 persons during a demonstration in Conakry on Monday, September 28, 2009”.

From Conakry, “Guinea’s military junta leader has expressed regret over the bloodshed in the clash between the opposition and security forces in the capital Conakry, Radio Senegal reported on Tuesday.” Death merits “merits” regret. Rape and sexual violence are clothed in silence, deep and profound.

In the same week, it was revealed that Nestlé had been purchasing dairy products from the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in the Mazowe Valley, about 20 kilometers north of Harare, a dairy farm recently taken over by Grace Mugabe. Once this was discovered, other connections were revealed. For example, DeLaval: “DeLaval, a leading equipment firm based in Sweden, is part of the giant Tetra Laval group owned by the Rausing dynasty”. They had sold a ton, actually tons, of equipment to Gushungo. Their response: “.Jörgen Haglind, a spokesman for Tetra Laval, said: “Tetra Laval was not previously aware of this transaction and we can only regret that the control functions within DeLaval have failed as this transaction should never have been approved.””  On Tuesday, “Delaval’s international spokesperson and vice-president of marketing and communications, Benoit Passard, said….”We regret that this has happened. We first made contact with the SA Dairy Association and then a long list of investors. The Mugabe name was never mentioned. This has come as a surprise to us and we would never have done business with them had we known this was who we were dealing with.””

Tuesday was a big day for expressions of regret. On Thursday, Nestlé Zimbabwe “ditched” Gushungo, without any expression of regret but rather an explanation of market forces. Perhaps those would include the threatened global boycott. We’ll never know. By Thursday, the government of Guinea was no longer expressing regret for anything, but rather claiming outside agitators and other nefarious forces were at work in Monday’s demonstration.

What is regret? “To remember, think of (something lost), with distress or longing; to feel (or express) sorrow for the loss of (a person or thing)…. To grieve at, feel mental distress on account of (some event, fact, action, etc.).” Regret is lamentation, grief, sorrow. Regret is loss.

In Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith, Cherokee scholar, feminist, rape crisis counselor, activist, woman, tells a story of regret: “`Assimilation’ into white society …only increased Native women’s vulnerability to violence. For instance, when the Cherokee nation was forcibly relocated to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears in the nineteenth century, soldiers targeted for sexual violence Cherokee women who spoke English and had attended mission schools….They were routinely gang-raped causing one missionary to the Cherokee, Daniel Butrick, to regret that any Cherokee had ever been taught English.”

As Smith records for Native women in the United States, as the women of Guinea and Zimbabwe understand deeply, as women in Sweden and Switzerland might know as well when they consider DeLaval and Nestlé as elements of their own well being and comfort, sexual violence is a State policy. It is not an exceptional event, but rather is woven into the very fiber of State security and national development. Ask the Sudanese women refugees in eastern Chad, who have no place to hide from or escape the daily sexual violence.

The United Nations Security Council this week voted to request the appointment of a special representative to address sexual violence in armed conflict zones. After the vote, “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon … immediately following the text’s adoption…. expressed regret that previous responses to sexual violence had not been able to stem the scourge.”

Were the Security General to express regret, or the leader of Guinea, or the corporate representatives, or the clergy, or anyone in public office or private spaces, for sexual violence, it would have to be more than a simple pro forma apology. The one expressing regret must perform and demonstrate grief, lamentation, sorrow, must understand and teach a lesson of loss. Until then, regret haunts the world … profoundly.

(Photo Credit: Rhizome) (Video Credit: Yoko Ono, Maysles Films, Inc / YouTube)