Missing, murdered aboriginal women honoured in marches
Gladys Radek of Orillia among loved ones marking Valentine's with calls for justice for aboriginal women
By Angela Sterrit
"Here I am eight years later and there is still no sign of Tamara and there is still no sign of a lot of the other girls ... some have gone missing for decades. They are treated as they are disposable."
On Friday, Radek, of the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en First Nations, is hosting the first annual Memorial March for Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women in Orillia, one of 20 confirmed cities participating in this year's event.
The now national march started in 1991, after a woman was murdered on Powell Street, in Vancouver. Her name is not spoken today, to honour the wishes of her family.
The Women’s Memorial website says, “This woman’s murder in particular was the catalyst that moved women into action. Out of this sense of hopelessness and anger came an annual march on Valentine’s Day to express compassion, community, and caring for all women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Coast Salish Territories.”
By Taté Walker
Bruises. Broken body parts. Broken souls. Rape. Fear. Missing. Murdered. All these words and more describe the violence many Native American and First Nations women experience every day, usually at the hands of someone they know. Nearly 40 percent are intimate partners, many of whom are non-Natives.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Highly touted (and debated) laws and policies, such as the Violence Against Women Act, currently do little to combat the staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, although many promise change is coming.
U.S. statistics show Native Americans experience violent crimes–including stalking, rape, and sexual assault–at rates more than double those of women of other races. One in three Native women report having been raped during her lifetime. The murder rate for Native women is 10 times the national average. Many experts agree these numbers are woefully underreported for several reasons, including distrust of a justice system that so often fails Native American people.
The situation isn’t any better for Canada’s Aboriginal women, who are three-to-five times more likely to experience violence than non-Aboriginal women ages 15 or older. According to Statistics Canada, in about half of all homicides the Aboriginal identity of the victim is reported by police as unknown. For instance, between 2005 and 2009, police reported 726 homicides where the victim was a woman aged 15 or older. Of these, the victim was identified as Aboriginal in 54 homicides, as non-Aboriginal in 292 homicides, and as Aboriginal identity unknown in 380 homicides.
When indigenous women disappear, their cases often get little coverage—and their identities can be erased
By Lauren Chief Elk
And as we work on our data collecting and reading reports, we have noticed that some indigenous women are even going missing a third time—when their racial or tribal identities are ignored or misrepresented. Many news articles and missing people’s organization cite indigenous women as white or Latino. Even in death indigenous women are being erased.
We know from existing as indigenous people and doing this work that this triple disappearance is everywhere across this continent. As Andrea Smith has detailed, “violence against Indigenous women in a symptom of colonization.” The rate of violence, the lack of response, the structure that helps it continue: This is settler colonialism, the occupation of the land by imperial powers and people that stand on top of indigenous nations. Both Canada and the United States are settler states.
There’s a myth that we’re now just a multicultural society and that the structures of slavery and genocide no longer affect us—that indigenous people either died off completely or disappeared into whiteness. But we survived. We are still here. We are still speaking our languages, we are still practicing our traditional ways, and we are still dancing in powwow circles. And the structure of the United States as a settler state is still trying to get rid of the “Indian problem.” A friend once told me, “If we were killed off or killed each other off, that would make the government very happy. That would be doing them a big favor.” And actions of the state make this plain. We see it in their disregard of indigenous life, evidenced by the federal authorities’ refusal to take seriously the disappearance and murder of Hanna Harris and so many others.
All over the continent, indigenous women are resisting. Today is the day of the annual 23rd annual women’s memorial marches that started in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, British Columbia. The marches began as grass-roots initiatives to search and demand justice for those who were missing and murdered. They now happen in at least nine major cities across Canada. As the mission statement on the women’s memorial march page states, “This event is organized and led by women in the DTES because women, especially Indigenous women, face physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence on a daily basis … We gather each year to mourn and remember our sisters by listening to their family members by taking over the streets, and through spiritual ceremonies.”
Below: "Gladys Radek holds a photo of her niece, Tamara Chipman, who disappeared in 2005 along Highway 16, the so-called Highway of Tears, east of Prince Rupert in northern B.C." (Gladys Radek)
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