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)

Woman is the first environment


Canada’s Globe and Mail asks, “What’s behind the explosion of native activism?” Their answer? “Young people.” As usual, the answer hides as much as it reveals.

The explosion of Native activism, organizing, and sheer presence across Canada, has been ignited and inspired by Chief Theresa Spence and by the four women founders of Idle No More — Jessica Gordon, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean. These five women are not behind the explosion. They are the explosion.

At the same time, the fire that continues is indeed made up of young Native people, specifically, young Native women. The Globe and Mail focus on Erica Lee, a former student of Sheelah McLean, and Tala Tootoosis, a Facebook friend of Nina Wilson’s, suggests as much.

Young Native women have always been organizing. One example would be Jessica Yee Danforth, who describes herself as a “multiracial Indigenous hip-hop feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter!” Founder and Executive Director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Yee Danforth is also the editor of Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the academic industrial complex of feminism, and a maker, shaker, and movement builder.

In 2011, on her way to the UN Climate Change Conference COP 17, Yee commented, “Climate change, for us, is a central issue because it has to do with what’s going on in our lands and our territories. And the way that we think about climate change is very broad. …When things impact our land and our air, they simultaneously impact our people and what’s going on in our communities. And for us, we understand that if we’re going to be talking about environmental issues of any sort, that woman in fact is the first environment. …What climate change is doing is not allowing our women to have healthy pregnancies. It is creating situations where there’s more violence in our communities, because of industry, for example. …We’re talking about issues of genocide. We’re talking about issues of survival of our peoples. And I know that we’re going to have some uncomfortable conversations even with organizers in our own communities this week, who just want to see this as a land-only issue or as an air-only issue and not understand that women being the first environment or the simultaneous, intersecting effects are really critical.”

What does this have to do with the current explosion of `raw energy’? Everything. Women are the first environment. Native women, young Native women and Native women elders, have always known this. When Jess Housty, a young Heiltsuk woman Idle No More organizer, explains, “I believe it’s in the best interests of people who care about the environment to support this,” she is invoking woman as the first environment. When Innu elder Marie Louise Andre Mackenzie explains, “I will always protect my land and my language,” she too understands, and teaches, women as the first environment. The Native women who researched and gathered stories of the hundreds upon hundreds of Aboriginal women and girls “missing” across Canada, and buried and lost in Canadian national policy. When those Native women refused to let their sisters go, refused to treat them as less than nothing, they understood, and insisted, that woman is the first environment.

These Native feminisms and feminists continually engaged and continually write deeper maps as they deepen and broaden the world. Behind the explosion of Native activism lies centuries of Native women’s resistance and emancipatory organizing and mobilizing. Right now, daily, across Canada and beyond, Native women, and in particular young Native women, are lighting the flame and taking it forward. Woman is the first environment. Remember that.


(Photo Credit: Rabble)