Indigenous women and girls strategies of resistance

This forum is started today, March 15, 2015, in memory and in honour of the many Indigenous women and girls missing and murdered in Canada. Articles will highlight the hope created by Indigenous women's brilliant and courageous efforts to end the violence. The call for a federal Inquiry is on-going. The many actions taken - Not One More movement, Idle No More, Butterflies in Spirit, February 14th Women's Memorial Marches throughout the country which have now spread to the U.S., the documentaries, roundtables, ceremonies, walks, runs, and endless educational and legal engagement - are inspiring. The tide must turn for Indigenous women and girls and indeed all women and girls.

With love and protest, Remember Our Sisters Everywhere

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Missing and Murdered: Searching for The Lost
Living in fear of being written off as another ‘high-risk’ aboriginal woman
by Peter Scowen, Fort McMurray, The Globe and Mail, Mar. 13 2015

This story is part of an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.

Melissa Herman takes the usual precautions when she goes for an early-morning run along the Snye River. She wears a bright yellow shell and brings along her bounding dog, a high-energy mashup of husky and chocolate lab named Charlie. But then she takes a further step, calling her brother and telling him when she’s running and the route she’ll take, so that someone knows where she is.

It’s not because Fort Mac is particularly unsafe, even in Ms. Herman’s downtown neighbourhood next to the infamous Syncrude Towers. Running through Snye Park is no more dangerous than going for a jog through one of Toronto’s leafy ravines. What troubles Ms. Herman, 28, is that, if she were actually to go missing or be murdered, she would be written off by the RCMP and by society as just another “high-risk” aboriginal woman.

“I’m scared that if something happens to me, they’re going to be, ‘Oh, why was she jogging on that trail at 6 o’clock in the morning? High-risk behaviour!’ It’s so real,” she says. “I think that’s why I try to present myself the way that I do, because if I do [go missing] I don’t want to be the ‘high risk.’ I don’t want that in my profile at all.”

The possibility of going missing or being found dead is an ugly fact of life for aboriginal women. It happens at an alarming rate – an RCMP report in 2014 said that 1,017 aboriginal women were murdered and 164 went missing between 1980 and 2012. Aboriginal groups, including the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and several provinces have been calling on the federal government to launch a national inquiry. Earlier this month, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women added its voice to that chorus. The Conservative government has refused.

According to the RCMP, aboriginal women made up 16 per cent of the women murdered in Canada, vastly out of proportion with their 4-per-cent share of the country’s female population. The proportions are even more out of whack in Alberta. It was the province or territory with the highest number of murdered indigenous women in the report – 206. Indigenous women make up approximately 3.1 per cent of the provincial population, based on 2011 census data, and yet accounted for 28 per cent of the murdered women in Alberta from 1980-2012.

In the most stark terms, if you are an aboriginal woman in Alberta, you are nearly 10 times more likely to be murdered than a non-aboriginal woman.

Ms. Herman is the single mother of a 10-year-old girl. She studies aboriginal entrepreneurship at Keyano College in Fort McMurray and works full-time as a student assistant in the college’s development department. It’s a job that lets her take time off to attend her daughter’s science fairs and other school activities.

She lives a busy life, sharing one of Fort Mac’s expensive rents with a friend. She and her daughter often return to Janvier, the native reserve about 90 minutes south of Fort McMurray where her mother was born, to see family and spend time in the bush.

Ms. Herman’s life hasn’t always been this quiet, though. As a teen she was homeless, drinking, taking drugs and avoiding school. It was after her daughter was born that she started focusing on her education and work. Even after that, though, there were times she was employed but still had to sleep on a relative’s couch with her daughter because she couldn’t afford housing. It was always a struggle.

“My thing is trying to present myself in a way where I would be respected and would have some value,” Ms. Herman says. “Because I don’t think there is any value. Even with what I feel like I’ve done – I’m educated, I’m well-rounded – I’ve still had people call me a ‘squaw.’ I’ve still had people tell me just the most ignorant thing where you’re just…” Her voice trails off.

The problem, as Ms. Herman and many others see it, is that the RCMP have been too quick in the past to write off the missing and dead as “high-risk” on the grounds they were unemployed and/or homeless, and abused drugs and alcohol. The 2014 report labelled these “risk factors contributing to their disappearance.”

This has left the family and friends of victims convinced the Mounties see their missing daughters, wives and sisters as the authors of their own misfortune, and not a high priority.

The Mounties are willing to admit this was true in some cases. Vickey Hulm, the sergeant in charge of the province’s full-time missing-persons unit in Edmonton, said in an interview that the distrust “may have come through my organization through history.”

“Absolutely I understand that feeling,” Sgt. Hulm said when told of Ms. Herman’s perception that native women are of little importance to the RCMP. “What you heard is not foreign to us.” When asked what she would say to Ms. Herman if she met her, she said, “I’d apologize to her that she feels that way.”

Amnesty International says this “high-risk” labelling, combined with racism and stereotyping, denies “the dignity and worth of Indigenous women.” The human-rights group also blames federal government policies, especially residential schools, for breaking up families and “leaving many Indigenous women and girls extremely vulnerable to exploitation and attack.”

In Fort McMurray, if you meet an aboriginal man or woman in their 50s or 60s, there is a high likelihood that they were forced by Ottawa, with the help of the RCMP, into residential schools at ages as young as six.

“This was not 100 years ago,” Ms. Herman points out. “The last residential school closed in the ’80s in Alberta. So when people say, ‘Get over it…’ ”

The disproportionate number of women and girls who’ve been murdered or gone missing in Alberta also means that everyone in the province’s aboriginal communities knows a victim or the family of one. Ms. Herman was friends with Amber Tuccaro, a 20-year-old woman from Fort Chipewyan who disappeared outside Edmonton in 2010 after travelling there from Fort McMurray – where she was living – with her son and a friend.

Ms. Herman was a news reporter at a local radio station at the time and remembers thinking something was off about Ms. Tuccaro’s disappearance. She says she wanted to continue airing stories about Amber afterwards, but her news director felt it was old news.

“After Amber went missing, I started going through all the databases and I had a folder of 11 missing or murdered women from Fort McMurray since the ’90s,” Ms. Herman recalls. “I had this little folder and they would make fun of me for [it].”

Ms. Tuccaro disappeared in August, 2010, and then in October so did Janice Desjarlais, a local homeless woman. The RCMP said it had video surveillance footage of Ms. Desjarlais and her boyfriend climbing into a dumpster in downtown Fort McMurray. They were looking for a place to sleep. In the morning, only the boyfriend is seen leaving, and then a garbage truck comes and empties the dumpster.

The police did a nine-day search of the local landfill but found nothing. Janice Desjarlais, 35, simply disappeared. The boyfriend, who reported she was missing, was never a suspect.

Ms. Herman recalls the attitude at the time of Ms. Desjarlais’s disappearance as, “Oh, Janice was drunk and she climbed in a dumpster. What do you expect to happen?”

Two years and a month after Ms. Tuccaro disappeared, her case changed to a murder investigation when some of her remains were found in the woods near Leduc, Alta. The RCMP has since admitted that “initial elements of the investigation were mishandled” after her disappearance – an admission that came last year after Amber’s mother, Vivian Tuccaro, filed a complaint against the RCMP detachment in Leduc for failing to conduct a thorough investigation.

Sgt. Hulm said that since Ms. Tuccaro’s disappearance, the Edmonton-based missing-persons unit has begun triaging new cases on a daily basis, rather than weekly. If the team spots anything unusual or in need of follow-up, it will contact the relevant RCMP detachment immediately.

“I can’t say for sure, but if we’d had that kind of triage when Amber was missing it might not have gone where it did,” Sgt. Hulm said.

It will be a long time before Ms. Herman has faith in the RCMP. And it’s a message she passes on to her daughter.

“I want to make sure she knows that nobody is going to look out for her more than her. Don’t depend on the RCMP. Yes, you call them, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You can do whatever you want and they’re not going to protect you.

“I refuse to be a statistic,” she added. “I’m not going to be that person. The more stuff like Amber happens, the more motivated I am to [make sure] that didn’t happen for nothing.”

Having survived a horrific assault and being left for dead in Winnipeg in November, 16-year-old Rinelle Harper says a national inquiry on murdered and missing native women ‘would be a chance for women and their families to heal from the past.’ (Lyle Stafford For The Globe and Mail)

Five months later, Rinelle Harper gives a voice to the missing and murdered
by Kathryn Blaze Carlson, Winnipeg — The Globe and Mail, Apr. 03 2015

Ever since her heart stopped, Rinelle Harper has been striving for normalcy. She fought for her life and now she wants to live like the 16-year-old she is – spending too much time on Facebook, listening to Eminem, playing volleyball, resisting her mother’s suggestions on how to wear her long black hair.

It has been nearly five months since a beaten Rinelle crawled out of Winnipeg’s freezing Assiniboine River, only to be attacked again on a footpath by two men who left her there to die. Now she is giving a voice to the murdered and missing native women who are not able to speak for themselves. She wants a national inquiry into their deaths and disappearances, and she wants native women to take care of one another – to walk in pairs, especially at night.

Hers is the quiet voice of a shy teen cast reluctantly into a public role by the ineffable luck of the survivor, but hoping to be heard all the same.

During an interview at the Harper home in Winnipeg this week, Rinelle and her parents, Julie and Caesar Harper, reflected on life since the Nov. 8 attack and spoke of plans for the future. The rented home is in a residential neighbourhood near the Red River, the murky waterway where the body of Tina Fontaine, a Sagkeeng First Nation teen, was found in August of last year.

It is a small house, never meant for so many. Rinelle and her older sister are home from boarding school more often now, and Mr. Harper, who had been working in their northern community of Garden Hill, Man., has moved to the city to be with his family.

On the kitchen table there was a Bible and a Canadian Armed Forces application for the Bold Eagle summer military program in Alberta. Rinelle, who is contemplating a future in the Forces, hopes to be accepted to the summer program. Atop the TV in the living room stood a matted letter of support from Senator Lillian Dyck addressed to Rinelle. Framed family portraits, taken about a month after the attack, were also on display.

Asked how life has changed since the assault, Rinelle, sporting smoky eyeshadow and a black Adidas T-shirt, shrugged and looked at her mother, who said, “Normal.”

The teen’s reticence is nothing new. “She’s the same girl,” her father said. In the interview, Rinelle communicated mostly through body language – nodding, shaking her head, smiling. She said little more than “yes” or “no,” though she sometimes turned to her mother and answered briefly in their native Oji-Cree.

Rinelle was thrust into the spotlight because police and her parents made the rare, calculated decision to release her name in the hopes it would spur investigative leads. It did, and now two men have been charged in connection with the attack on her, as well as a separate assault on a 23-year-old woman hours later.

The teen, who said she does not remember the attack and does not suffer from flashbacks, is relieved arrests were made in the case. She feels safer now. But at the same time, she wishes her identity had never been released. She finds it difficult to be the public face of a movement. And yet she understands this is her life now and she wants Canadians to hear her message. The day after The Globe and Mail visited her home, Rinelle – unsolicited – sent thoughts over Facebook.

“One thing that has been happening is that other women and girls have been approaching us to talk about how they were attacked,” she wrote. “Many women told us that they never came forward, and that they carried that with them, some for many years. I believe more women and men who have been assaulted should come forward.”

She said her family has been fortunate enough to be supported through their “healing journey.” They pray, go to church and are starting to talk about what happened to her. The attack was so horrific that Ms. Harper, who endured 45 minutes of CPR at the scene and had no pulse in the intensive care unit, was nearly the subject of a homicide investigation.

In some ways, the months since have been surprisingly unremarkable. Rinelle sleeps well and no longer needs the sleeping pills she relied on in the hospital. The teen still boards during the week at Winnipeg’s Southeast Collegiate and is on track to finish Grade 11 with her friends, as long as she catches up in English class. She briefly returned to tae kwon do just two weeks after being released from the hospital. She missed basketball tryouts but made the volleyball team. The family sometimes orders KFC for dinner. They watch Castle and listen to rock on the radio.

But life after the attack has also been surreal, emotional and frightening. In December, the recovering teen addressed the Assembly of First Nations clutching an eagle feather, just as her great-uncle, Elijah Harper, famously did in the Manitoba legislature when he stood up against the Meech Lake accord. She took her first trip outside the Prairie province in February to attend the national roundtable in Ottawa on violence against native women. Maybe, she said, she would like to live there some day.

Rinelle, who two weeks ago started seeing a counsellor, makes sure she is never alone in Winnipeg at night. Still, her mother is anxious. Ms. Harper, who moved to the Manitoba capital last year to take college business courses, worries when her daughter is out. She also worries when the words “Private Caller” appear on her cellphone. She fears it is a relative of one of the co-accused.

Justin Hudson, a 20-year-old Poplar River band member, and a 17-year-old male, who cannot be named because he is a minor, have been charged with attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault and, in relation to the attack on the 23-year-old, sexual assault with a weapon.

Ms. Harper said police have told her there is “really strong evidence in the case,” including Facebook photographs of the 17-year-old allegedly wearing Rinelle’s jacket and sneakers. She also said she is curious about the other victim. “I wonder who she is, if she’s aboriginal, if she’s okay,” Ms. Harper said. “I wonder if she has any kids. And was she alone at the time, too?”

She said the assault on her daughter and their time in Ottawa for the roundtable have opened her eyes to the wider issue of murdered and missing native women.

“That was our first time hearing stories from others,” she said. “There was one lady who talked about her 16-year-old who is still missing. … Because she was 16, I could just feel it.”

The Harper family is now throwing its support behind a call for a national inquiry. In her written comments to The Globe, Rinelle said the inquiry “would be a chance for women and their families to heal from the past.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed calls for a national probe, saying the tragedies are not part of a “sociological phenomenon” and need not be further studied. Ms. Harper said she will be voting for the Liberals in the fall election because she thinks Justin Trudeau is a good leader and his party supports an inquiry.

She said she and her husband are grateful to Canadians, near and far, who have sent messages of encouragement to her family. “We want to say thank you to all the Canadians who supported her,” she said. “The letters, the donations, the teddy bears.”

Her daughter, she said, is scarred from the attack, her legs especially. But other than having to change the dressing on a particular wound every couple of days, Rinelle has recovered. Gone is the bloodshot eye and the chest pain from the prolonged CPR. Gone, too, is the residual ache that coursed through her body.

“I am thankful for my life – for the time I can spend with my family,” Rinelle wrote. “I thank God for giving me this chance to say a few words to everyone who will listen to my message.”

Starting a conversation for a healing journey

After an interview with The Globe and Mail this week, a reticent Rinelle Harper sent across some written thoughts. This is her message:

My mom and I have been getting a lot of support from people we meet.

One thing that has been happening is that other women and girls have been approaching us to talk about how they were attacked.

Many women told us that they never came forward and that they carried that with them, some for many years. I believe more women and men who have been assaulted should come forward.

My family and I have been fortunate; we found support for our healing journey. We pray, go to church and we are beginning to talk about what happened to me.

But there are so many people out there who need someone to talk to. Victim Services are hard to come by, especially if you don’t live in Winnipeg.

I understand that conversations have been occurring all across the country about ending violence against indigenous women and girls. When I was at the AFN Assembly, I asked everyone to keep a few simple words in mind that have been my inspiration: love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.

I also shared my support for a call for a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. I am able to call out for an inquiry, but there are far too many young women who lost their lives who cannot do the same.

For me, the inquiry would help women come forward and report the assaults that happened to them. The inquiry would be a chance for women and their families to heal from the past.

I am thankful for my life – for the time I can spend with my family. I thank God for giving me this chance to say a few words to everyone who will listen to my message.

Edited for length and clarity

Men's role in solving the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women
Organizers say not enough men showing support
By Ryan Pilon, CBC News Posted: Apr 07, 2015

Conrad Burns hopes more men will show support at missing and murdered Indigenous women events and help raise awareness towards the issue of abuse towards women.   

Lani Elliott was 21 years old when she survived a vicious attack by her husband, who beat her with a baseball bat and broke her leg.  Elliott is now telling her story to First Nations and in schools, raising awareness of how often domestic abuse plays a role in the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.

According to a report released by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police last year entitled "Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Review", 92 per cent of the women knew their attackers:

    29 per cent — Spouse
    23 per cent — Other Family Member
    10 per cent — Other Intimate
    30 per cent — Acquaintance
    8 per cent — Stranger

"It's almost like people want to believe that a lot of the violence that's happening, the perpetrators are strangers, and maybe that's the case for some of them, but we can't ignore the fact that domestic violence, relationship violence is a huge contributing factor to these women going missing," Elliott said.

Despite 89 per cent of the perpetrators being men, Elliott said a lot of men don't want to talk about the issue. She's had speeches cancelled last minute and male leaders sending female representatives instead.

"It's sad to say but there's a lot of push back," Elliott said. "In my mind, it tells me this is an issue they don't want to talk about."

Several organizations have agreed that not enough men are showing up to support women at missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) events.

There are exceptions, however. Conrad Burns is helping set up a week-long event in Prince Albert to create awareness about abuse towards women.

"Traditionally, women controlled the community. They were in charge," Burns said. "We've lost that. As a man, my role, traditionally, is to support a woman in any given single way possible ... women give birth to us. Women help us develop ourselves. Women feed us and clothe us, and pass on their knowledge, and take their time to care for us. And somewhere along that way some men think they become punching bags."

Burns admitted it can be tough to get other men involved, because he said some of them would promise to take part in an event, but then they'd never show up.

Conrad Burns is helping set up a week-long event in Prince Albert to raise awareness about abuse towards women. (Ryan Pilon/CBC)

"Getting guys involved in Prince Albert, I know there's a lot of amazing guys out there, and they're all busy doing their own things, sometimes it's hard to focus on something else, because everyone's got their own struggles."

Worse than not showing up are those who are opposed to the cause completely, such as a man who responded on Facebook when Burns posted that people need to respect women.

"A man, I don't even know where he's from, stated right away, 'Just because you posted this I'm going to hit a woman today'."

Despite the struggles to get his message across, Burns still believes that more men will join the cause.

"Good men, healthy men, have got to step up and teach men what a healthy man is again," Burns said. "If men don't stand up, they're continuing to cycle. And the cycle of abuse is not good for anyone."

(Valyncia Spavier and mom Brandy Maxie)

Raising a daughter in a world of the missing and murdered
Single mom Brandy Maxie knows her children face risks because of their race
by Madeline Kotzer, CBC News Posted: Apr 08, 2015

Everything Brandy Maxie does now is to save her children from the rough adolescence she had.

"I was victimized in ways I wouldn't wish upon my daughter, I wouldn't wish upon anybody else," she said. Maxie was 15 when she left her home.

She said her parents worked tirelessly and tried to help everyone that needed it on the White Bear First Nation. They were entrepreneurs, took care of foster children in their home and served as support workers for suicide prevention on the reserve. "We had quite a few family members who committed suicide," Maxie said.

When she chose to leave the reserve all those years ago, she said it was because it had all become too much. "I've experienced a lot of the on-reserve issues and a lot of it has to do with alcohol and drugs and violence and there are good things, I love the reserve, but I also saw a lot of the negative things that were happening."

Maxie explained she was trying to escape the hopeless negativity of reserve life; but she left only to be swallowed up by a predatory city. "It was kind of my first experience with how the city life was," she said. "I was 15 and I am walking to school every day and walking to daycare to pick up my little cousins."

She moved directly into Regina's North Central neighbourhood where she attended school. She said she felt scared most of the time and had to walk everywhere she went. "I had vehicles following me … I remember throwing sticks at a vehicle because it was trying to chase me and a friend down."

Maxie said her teenage years were filled with tough trials. Good things happened; she met the father of her children and graduated from high school on time. Bad things happened, too. Maxie said at age 16 she was drugged and raped. When she regained consciousness, she was filled with fear.

"When I woke up I was very dizzy and didn't know where I was.  I made a break for the door," Maxie said. "It was unreported because I learned very fast I didn't want to be considered a rat, didn't want to be at the police station."

Maxie said after she graduated Grade 12, she moved back to the reserve with a man she met. They had a child together in 2004. They named the baby girl Valyncia Spavier.

No escape from the 'hood'

It wouldn't be long before Maxie found herself back in North Central. She said, for a while, life back on her reserve was good. She and her partner had a daughter and a son together. A stable family life seemed possible. But, it didn't work out.

Maxie moved herself and her two children back to Regina. She said she didn't want to give up on her dreams. She wanted to pursue post-secondary education. She wanted a car and a safe home for her two children. But the only places she could afford and the only people who would rent to her were in North Central.

"There were people walking by drunk every day," Brandy said. "Sometimes with my kids, we'd walk to the park and no word of a lie someone followed every single time. They'd turn in to the alley. They'd make some kind of a signal. It was just too much for me." For a year her children lived with their father, back on the reserve, while Maxie went to school, looked for employment and couch-surfed. Maxie said although it hurt her heart, she had to get her children away from the area.

During this time she said that not having a car made every trip out of whatever house she was calling home, scary. "I always felt unsafe. I didn't want my kids to be seeing a lot of that," Maxie said.

A fresh start

Maxie's break came in the form of a job interview in Saskatoon. The chance at a new life came just in time, after years of living in fear in Regina, unable to escape what she called the "hood." She was afraid her dreams would die there. "I just kind started feeling hopeless," she said. "Like, I can't get a decent paying job. I can't do this. I can't do that. When you're living poor, people treat you pretty bad, especially if you're an indigenous woman. They really do."

Maxie said it was a long journey that lead her to Saskatoon. She won her way through First Nations' entrepreneurial competitions. She explained that she often wore sweatshirts to the presentations because she was too poor to buy a blazer.

Racism made her more determined to succeed

"Me, walking to a business planning competition and somebody yells 'how much?' or tries to stop me," she said "They're not driving by and thinking 'oh no, she looks like she's trying to do good in her life, I'm going to leave her alone'. Physically my appearance, I look like what they would stereotype as a prostitute."

Now Maxie lives on Saskatoon's east side in a modest duplex with her three children. She is working hard to make her dreams of franchising her own fitness company a reality. Her two sons, ages six and eight, both have health challenges. Her eldest and only daughter, 11-year-old Valyncia, is always by her side.

Maxie said she vividly remembers the first time her daughter, Valyncia Sparvier, understood the danger she faced because she is aboriginal. Maxie was at an outdoor fitness class at a school in Regina. Her three children were playing nearby at the school's park. A man in a red truck pulled up and parked near the children.

She said she watched in terror as the man tried to lure her young daughter to the car. "Valyncia, she is so protective, so she immediately grabbed her brothers and went closer to the school building and was calling for me," she said. "We had the discussion; sometimes people will follow you because you are a native girl."

Maxie said as her daughter grew older, she began to ask questions about what it meant to be a "missing or murdered indigenous woman." She was honest and told her daughter about the women they knew who were missing. Maxie's cousin Danita Bigeagle went missing almost 10 years ago in Regina. And five-year-old Tamra Keepness, who disappeared in Regina in 2004, was also from their home reserve, White Bear First Nation.

"Your physical appearance, just being native, is going to put you at a higher risk for certain things than a non-First Nations person and that's just the way it is right now," Maxie said of her conversation with Valyncia.

This year, Sparvier wrote an award-winning speech about the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. Initially she chose the topic for her Grade 6 public speaking assignment. Now, the pre-teen is speaking at events across the province, aimed at raising awareness about the issue.

Maxie said she believes it is important that her daughter learns to have her own voice, but she does not want her to live in fear. "I have lived in fear. I have been a victim. I don't identify with it anymore but a lot of my parenting comes from my past experiences."

Fighting for a brighter future

In her speech, Sparvier speaks about the need for women, especially First Nations', to have self-defence skills. "I think we should take self-defence courses so that's what I have been doing for a while," Sparvier says of her weekly boxing lessons at Nelson Boxing Club.

"If any of them almost get abducted, or something like that, it's good that they know self-defence so that they can protect themselves," the girl said of her peers, who she speaks to about the issue.

Maxie said she is proud of her daughter's strength and feels with a little more hard work, they`ll be able to achieve their goal: to live comfortably and go to Disneyland. "I told the kids 'I've got to work really, really hard and we're barely going to scrape by, but I will always find a way. But, one day were going to be totally fine. I just want to live comfortably."

Now, Maxie is thankful that she no longer lives in a mouldy house in North Central. However, her older van is in need of repair and things still get tight at the end of the month. Despite this, Maxie is determined to raise strong children who will learn to fight like she did for a brighter future.

"It's the first time where we're really feeling hopeful."

Deloria Many Grey Horses “I Chose This Poem Because I Want to Honour the 1200 Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women”
Aside | Posted on April 7, 2015

Deloria Many Grey Horses-Violich 33 lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is a proud member of the Kainai Nation – a band of the Blackfoot Confederacy – the Chickasaw and the Yankton Sioux Nations. Deloria is an urban First Nation’s woman dedicated to creating change and advocating for Indigenous Rights through her writing, film, photography, and all other forms of self-expression.

Deloria studied at the University of California, Berkeley and double majored in Native American Studies and Ethnic Studies. Her mom is a residential school survivor and so Deloria has experienced the first hand statistics of First Nations people.  She describes herself as a contemporary warrior who uses her passion for equality, words, images, and storytelling to combat the history of injustices for the Canadian Indigenous communities. Deloria’s goal is to one day create a different story for Indigenous peoples – a story that will overflow the forces of humility, courage and compassion!

She is also a mother of a beautiful 21-month-old girl, and in her words ‘didn’t realize how beautiful life was’ until she met her.  Deloria says that her daughter has given her the inspiration to reach for her dream of being an advocate and artist. So we decided to ask her a few questions:

What motivated you to deal with the subject of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (#MMIW) in your poetry?

“Over 1200 Indigenous women have gone missing in Canada between 1980 and 2012.  The actual numbers might be higher due to gaps in police and government report.  This is a violation of Human Rights.  As a mother, sister, and aunty I have responsibility to my community and to other Indigenous women. We need to help raise awareness, so we can put an end to this injustice and change the story for future Indigenous women.”

Tell us why you chose this submission?

“I choose this poem because I want to honour the 1200 murdered and missing Indigenous women and their families.  It is my clarion call to the Indigenous community and the global community of the beauty, strength and resiliency of us as Indigenous women!”

By Deloria Many Grey Horses
I am Akáínaa
I am the people.
I represent the generations of Indigenous women who have come before us and those that will come after me.
I am the mother of the earth, sister of justice, aunty of peace, and girlfriend of reason.
I are the backbone of my community.
In my heart is where I live.
Seven generations of grandmothers.
Seven generations of resilience.
Seven generations now awaken.
Contemporary warriors wanting justice for daughters and sisters gone missing.
Over 1200 missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Each with a family and loved ones.
Each left with a broken heart.
Do I not matter?
Does my brown skin and appearance make us less?
Let’s move towards our strengths.
We need to educate ourselves to win the battle.
Education is the new buffalo.
Each word I read creates change.
Each time I speak up creates awareness.
Each heart opened.
A step forward.

Why have you chosen the medium of poetry?

“I love poetry and all forms of self-expression.  Poetry has a unique and powerful way of helping your voice be heard in a different way.  I come from a long generation of residential school survivors and am impacted by intergenerational trauma.  Writing takes me through a healing journey and gives me a space to weigh in on issues that impact me.  It also gives me a space to celebrate the beautiful aspects of my First Nations cultures and demonstrate resiliency. The arts are beautiful mediums for self-expression because there are no limitations placed on how an individual may express him/herself.  This approach is very empowering, as well as, a natural force for reclaiming Aboriginal oral storytelling traditions. It will also provide an outlet for Indigenous artists to connect, create art and continue to demonstrate resiliency.”

What is your process when creating?

    “I try not to think too much.  My grandfather use to tell me, “The longest journey in life is from your head to your heart.” We need to think more with our hearts and less with our heads.  My creativity exists in my emotions and when I can tap into my emotions this is when I get inspired.”

Who are you influenced by? What inspired you and your art?

    “I am blessed to have a rich blended family. Family members are my greatest sources of inspiration and each one has given me a unique perspective on the world. For this specific piece my daughter and my mother are my inspiration.  We are three generations of Blackfoot women.  My mom always talks about how different my daughter’s experience of life will be compared to hers.  My mom made the path soft for me and I hope to make the path softer for my daughter. My mom is the strongest woman I know.  In the midst of adversity she pushes on and never gives up.  She was one of the first Indigenous women to get her Doctorate Degree and her goal in life is to be a good relative. That same tenacious and generous spirit is alive in my daughter and it is my heart’s desire to be a source of inspiration for her.”

What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

    “Feminism is standing up against the injustices inflicted upon all women regardless of their skin colour, culture, and socio-economic status.  It’s about creating an equal opportunity for woman, so yes I am a feminist! Many of our Indigenous communities were matriarchal however due to racist based historical government policies, such as the Indian Act our traditional values were severed including the break down our family structures and ultimately placing men above and in front of women.  In fact, under the Indian Act only a man could be considered an “Indian”. More and more indigenous women are reclaiming our roles as leaders in our communities.  Our grandmothers are encouraging us to pick up our drums and sing our songs.”

Do you feel women have to conform to social norms and stereotypes to be taken seriously? Do you have any experiences of this?

    “Yes! European-based mainstream society depicts Indigenous women as dirty squaws or sexualized Pocahontas. As a younger woman I grew up struggling about fitting these images but did not allow myself to internalize these images.  As a woman and a member of a minority ethnicity if you stand up for yourself you may be considered too outspoken.  When I was in high school I was too scared to speak my truth.  It was during my time spent at UC Berkeley that the fire inside me was ignited and I began to share my story. It was a time I staked myself to the ground as an Indigenous woman. I realized the old warrior’s story of staking one to the ground in the midst of the dynamic play of the forces of oppression – the willingness to sacrifice for the life of the people!”

Do you think that women and men are equal in today’s societies around the world? Have you any experience of this?

    “I would like to think it’s getting better.  The more dialogue we have around inequality for women the more social norms will change.”

What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for etc…..?

    “My passion focuses on Indigenous women and Indigenous children.  Currently, in Canada there are more Indigenous children in the Child Welfare system than at the height of residential school era. This is another important issue to me.  Also, my passion focuses on creating space for different forms of learning, such as art, writing, film, and photography.”

How can your art be used to create change and is this something you want for your art?

    “It’s the whole reason I create art.  It is gentle and beautiful form of resistance and celebration.  It is where I get my inspiration.”

What does the statement ART SAVES LIVES mean to you and has art in anyway “saved” your life in any way?

    “Just like it was for my ancestors the spirit of art has helped me overcome so many obstacles in my life.  Art for me is a connection between my spirit and the Universe – and it is this connection between the spirit and the universe that is most beautiful. When a person is able to tap into that creative space one gets to know his/her true self and begins to actualize his/her true potentiality. It is about living a beautiful life!”

What are your goals as with your art?

    “To continue telling my story and creating space for other Indigenous women to tell their stories.  I want to encourage and support other Indigenous women to know they are not alone on their journey and to inspire them in such a way as to identify themselves with my work.”

What is your next project or piece that you are working on?

    “I’m working on a family photography project.  I will be photographing Indigenous families in the Calgary area to contradict the negative stereotypes of First Nations people we see in mainstream society.  So many of our community is thriving and raising healthy happy families.  I want to showcase this.”

Missing and murdered women's advocate finds strength in dance troupe

Lorelei Williams founded Butterflies in Spirit to help families of missing and murdered women
by The Early Edition, CBC News Posted: Jun 15, 2015 

Lorelei Williams (centre) is an advocate for missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Lorelei Williams (centre) is an advocate for missing and murdered aboriginal women. (Facebook)

It seems like violence has always been part of Lorelei Williams' life.

The DNA of her cousin Tanya Holyk was found on serial killer Robert Pickton's farm, Williams' aunt Belinda Williams has been missing for years, and Williams herself grew up in a household where she suffered sexual and physical abuse.

Williams says it wasn't until she was older that she understood the root of the violence she suffered at the hands of her mother.

"I found out she was in residential school, and that's what she grew up with, and being a child, taken away from her mom when she was six-years-old," Williams told CBC's The Early Edition.

"When she was taken, [she was] counting the mountains to find her way home, and then having to go through the sexual abuse, child abuse, physical abuse in residential school..."

Belinda Williams

In 1977, Lorelei Williams aunt, Belinda Williams, disappeared in B.C. without a trace. (Supplied by Lorelei Williams)

Even though she had a traumatic childhood, Williams says her experience has made her stronger, and it drives her to give her two children a better childhood than her own.

Williams is also an advocate for missing and murdered aboriginal women, and has even founded a dance troupe called Butterflies in Spirit to raise awareness.

"Just thinking of having other women with me to do the dance was the original idea — to get my missing aunt's picture out there.

"But also to remember and honour my cousin Tanya Holyk, not … thinking that other family members of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls would join me.

"And that made it so much more strong, and we healed together doing this, and we're still doing it."

Her Mother Was Murdered. Now This Apache Woman Works to Break Cycle of Domestic Abuse


She was just a teen when her entire world changed the day her mother was murdered. What follows is how an Apache woman decided to transform her life from a cycle of trauma, to action earning a masters degree at an Ivy League to work for social justice for indigenous people.


It was around 11:00 a.m. on a school day and Noel Altaha sat in math class, joking with her classmates in Apache. She was living with her grandparents apart from her mother at the time, and she loved going to school. “In those years I could just be a kid, like everyone else,” she said.  She could never anticipate how her life was about to change.

The principal called her into the office. There, she saw her aunt sobbing as her uncle sat quietly. “What I’m about to tell you is serious and I need you to listen carefully,” her uncle explained to Altaha, then only 13-years-old.

Her mother, Jade Velasquez, was found murdered near a camper in Phoenix, hours away from their Arizona home.

And this was not an isolated incident.

It turned out that she was killed by a man who had raped and murdered four other women. Recently, Altaha, now 27, talked about the incident in an interview in a quiet corner of a Columbia University library. Softly lit lamps glowed behind her as she sat in a leather chair mentally retracing that life-changing conversation. It appeared to be as exhausting as living through it. She felt her hands become clammy, and a hot sensation course through her head. “It was almost an out of body experience,” Altaha recalled. Her voice quiet and shaky, she continued: “The rest of the year is a blur. It’s as if my head blacked out.” She gently moved strands of her waist length brown hair away from her face with hands decorated in silver and turquoise rings.

Speaking about it conjured up painful memories.

In those days after her mother’s death, Altaha continued attending school to try to maintain normalcy. But as the family held traditional Apache ceremonies, they left out a major process in their culture. Usually, the family of the deceased burns all of the persons belongings as a way of letting them go, sometimes even including pictures. Her mother’s clothes were, instead, held for crime scene investigations. The family grieved her life in traditional Apache ceremonies, and the girls cut their hair for one year. But they didn’t feel the mourning process was complete. “That was very hard going through the motions, partly because her clothes were withheld from us,” Altaha said.

RELATED: Another International Call for Inquiry Into Murdered and Missing In...

She was also confronted with media coverage of the murders. Various newspapers including the New York Times and local Phoenix publications reported about the murdered women. One of the victims was reported to be mentally disabled, and three of the women were confirmed to be prostitutes. Cory Morris, the murderer, declined psychological evaluations prior to the trial, according to court reports.

Gossip spread throughout her hometown, and some of her classmates said her mother was a crack head, according to Jan Tenijieth, her mother’s sister. She decided to send Altaha to a boarding school in Portland, Oregon.

Grieving the loss of her mother was an even harder transition because Altaha had to figure out how to face the effects of abuse. “I coped with the former child neglect by just checking out and not let anything anyone would say get internalized,” she said.

Her mother, a military veteran, frequently abused drugs and alcohol, and had endured abusive relationships with boyfriends, sometimes becoming abusive towards Altaha. Altaha recalled a moment that stirred tremendous guilt. She was at her aunt’s house about a month before the murder, and her aunt asked about her mother. “I remember saying, ‘I don’t have a mom anymore.’ So of course my little 13-year-old mind is going to think that I caused her death,” she said. “I had to try to understand what it means to realize my mother’s death was not my fault, while still trying to get through high school.”

Altaha’s experience was unique from her family members. Keyana Ayers, her younger sister, was 6-years-old at the time of the murder.  Today, she is raising two toddler boys mostly as a single mother.

Ayers rarely talks about her mother and their past of domestic violence. Instead, she quietly followed the investigation of her mother’s death. But that changed recently. “It brings back too many painful memories. It’s just not good for my well-being anymore,” she said. 

But their aunt, Tanijieth, has followed the investigation closely since the day she learned of her sister’s murder.

Tenijieth continues to receive letters from the state attorney's office regarding the appeals being processed by Morris. She is still trying to collect Jade’s clothing from the state evidence room.

And when the children were left without a mother or consistent father, Altaha’s grandfather, Amyx Seymour, stepped into the father role for the girls. But the family would rarely discuss her death, or the domestic violence the girls experienced.

As an adult, Altaha grappled with how to make sense of the murder.

She enrolled in college at age 18, but her studies were interrupted when she took over guardianship of her sister after her grandmother passed away. It was during this time that she experienced survivor anger for her mother’s death, she said.

Years later when she returned to college, Altaha decided to turn resentment into action.

She took courses that helped her to articulate what she had experienced growing up in domestic violence, and started going to therapy. She began to understand how her mother’s murder had affected her, she said. She also became involved with student groups that gave her a sense of belonging on campus.

But she cautioned that her way of healing was not a “one size fits all” remedy. “I don’t want my story to come across as ‘she made it, anyone can make it.’ My story is one in which I processed the trauma in a way that was appropriate for me instead of internalizing it,” she said. “To not internalize the trauma that you’re faced with, however you do that, is what’s really personal to you.”

She is now a graduate student at the Columbia University School of Social Work in New York City. She plans to pursue a PhD program to be a researcher, professor, and a tribal consultant.

Noel Altaha speaking in 2014 at an annual youth conference held by her tribe, the White Mountain Apache, in Whiteriver Arizona on the Fort Apache Indian reservation. Photo courtesy J.R. Smith
Noel Altaha speaking in 2014 at an annual youth conference held by her tribe, the White Mountain Apache, in Whiteriver Arizona on the Fort Apache Indian reservation. Photo courtesy J.R. Smith

One of her goals is to raise awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women through blogging, academic research, and poetry. She talks about domestic violence and murder, in hopes of helping her sister’s, and other indigenous survivors of violence, move forward.

“Having those uncomfortable conversations with my sisters about what they were going through when my mom died is most important to really recognizing that healing from this is a lifelong process,” Altaha explained. “How can we teach self-compassion to the Native youth, or adults suffering from addiction?” she questioned.

“This is not the end of my journey. I feel like it’s just the beginning,” Altaha added. She continues to reflect on her ups and downs of reconciling her mother’s death. “I used to be obsessed with the death and would blame myself,” she said. “But I realized you can still continue to live a healthy life, a life that’s not just surviving, you’re actually thriving.”

Today, she focuses her work on breaking the cycle of domestic violence and substance abuse, and wants to identify why indigenous women are perpetrated at higher rates. “My mom warned me of the dangers of addiction, and the reservation life mentality ‘bucket of crabs syndrome.’ You get used to the trauma,” she said. “Childhood trauma can be devastatingly challenging to overcome.”

Altaha plans to serve as a lecturer addressing these issues, and to use social media to raise awareness for violence towards Native women. “He’s (Morris) on death row, and my mom is still in my DNA,” she said. “I still get to live my life. That’s my closure.”



Ontario First Nations to hold inquiry into missing, murdered indigenous women

Chiefs of Ontario launch digital fundraiser called Who Is She to pay for public inquiry

CBC New, Sep 09, 2015

Ontario chiefs announce a campaign to pay for their own inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. From left: Deputy Chief Denise Stonefish, Regional Chief Isadore Day and Chief Ava Hill.

Ontario chiefs announce a campaign to pay for their own inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. From left: Deputy Chief Denise Stonefish, Regional Chief Isadore Day and Chief Ava Hill. (CBC)

Ontario First Nations will launch their own inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls, saying the issue is too important to wait for the outcome of the upcoming federal election.

To pay for the inquiry, Chiefs of Ontario — a group representing 163 communities — has launched a website called Who Is She where the public can make donations. The site also features photographs of the missing and murdered, as well as messages from their families. 

Who Is She website

Chiefs of Ontario launch fundraising campaign to pay for their own inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. (CBC)

"Every indigenous woman and girl should feel safe in this country," said Denise Stonefish, deputy grand chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, which is aligned with Chiefs of Ontario.

"First Nations families cannot wait for Ottawa to stop indigenous women and girls from disappearing."

Both the federal Liberals and New Democrats have vowed to launch a public inquiry if elected, something the Conservative government has refused to do.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne applauded the Ontario Chiefs for starting the "Who Is She" campaign.

"I think that it is laudable that they are going to be doing a campaign here in Ontario," Wynne said. "I will continue to raise my voice in the call for a national inquiry."

It isn't known how many of the missing and murdered are from that province, but Isadore Day, head of Chiefs of Ontario, says the organization has been working with the Ontario Provincial Police and the attorney general's office to find out.

Day says an inquiry would not replace a national public inquiry commissioned by the federal government.

"Canada must be held accountable for its inaction on this issue," he said.

"It's a wonderful time to get the message out there, don't you think," Day said of the federal election. "If we were to wait until the election campaign was over we would be remiss — we would have missed a good opportunity."

World attention

The staggeringly high numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women has drawn world attention.

A 2015 United Nations report found that young aboriginal women are five times more likely to die under violent circumstances, as compared with their non-aboriginal counterparts.

Last year, the RCMP released a report that said there were 1,181 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women between 1980 and 2012. Earlier this year, the force updated those numbers and said an additional 32 aboriginal women have been slain and 11 more have disappeared since 2013.

There is no dollar figure set for the fundraising campaign, and Day acknowledged that public inquiries can be very expensive, but said that wasn't the chiefs' main concern.

"The urgency of this matter is one that has prompted us to not look at the total cost of an inquiry," he said. "What we're proposing here is we're going to do whatever we can, within our might, with the goodwill of our partners, to establish the beginning phases of that inquiry."

Fighting for sisters… Fay Blaney’s life
by Cara McKenna, Salish Sea Sentinel, March 2016

On a typically grey winter day in Vancouver, Fay Blaney is walking through the heart of the Downtown Eastside with several other Indigenous women’s advocates.

The women enter the Aboriginal Front Door Society where they’re about to hold a press conference to outline their concerns about the federal government’s recently launched inquiry into Canada’s epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW).

All of them have been fighting for this inquiry for many years, before the story of serial killer Robert Pickton preying on women in the area began making headlines, and before the general public began paying attention.

They’ve been the ones talking to and laughing and crying with the victims and their families.

Twenty-five years ago, Blaney and others were fighting for the rights of Indigenous women when the government just “didn’t care,” she said.

Back then, Aboriginal women who died on the Downtown Eastside would get ten-minute funerals, if any, despite cultural protocol calling for days-long ceremonies to say goodbye.

The issue is now getting increased attention and the MMIW inquiry is happening, but the committee is worried that the government isn’t putting enough focus on the misogyny and colonialism at the root of the problem. And they’re going to tell Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett exactly that, right after they tell the media.
Fay -second from the left - speaks to media. Photo by Cara McKenna

Fay -second from the left – speaks to media. Photo by Cara McKenna

Blaney, her long hair in braids, warmly greets several regulars who are sitting in a circle of folding chairs drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups. People around her hustle to rearrange the room to make space for news reporters, who have already started arriving.

She sits at a newly moved table, her voice and demeanour unshakable even after multiple interruptions from the centre’s staff and a CTV reporter who’s wondering where to place her microphone.

Blaney’s daughter brings her tea and toast.

“They’re expecting me to help organize this,” Blaney explains calmly as she sips her tea and directs the room between questions. Her steadfast manner is a product of, and has led to, her three decades as a powerful voice for Indigenous women.

It’s been a lifelong journey for Blaney, whose first true act of rebellion happened when, still dealing with a history of violence and sexual abuse within her family, she ran away from residential school in Mission, BC.

“I couldn’t handle the constant punishment,” she said. “When I began running, I came to the city.”

Blaney pinpoints her start in activism to when she was part of an all-women’s occupation of the BC offices of the Department of Indian Affairs to protest actions of its leadership in the early 1980s.

She went on to study at Simon Fraser University in the early 1990s, another part of her liberation, and became a strong voice for Indigenous women in the years following as part of a number of different organizations and groups.

In the early 2000s, she took her advocacy home to Homalco First Nation where she grew up, as documented in the 2006 documentary Finding Dawn.

Before colonization, the Homalco people lived around Church House and Bute Inlet. They were healthy and fish were abundant. But the community was transplanted to an area far from the sea near the Campbell River airport. It was land-locked with no access to the ocean. The nation continues to mourn its loss.

There have been serious residual impacts, and the resulting problems made it a scary place at times when Blaney was a child. The community has faced extreme social issues including, notoriously, physical and sexual violence towards its women, something Blaney watched happen to her mother who ran away to escape the abuse.

But Blaney, no longer afraid, came into her community with guns blazing, ready to tackle the problem with other abuse survivors within the community. Despite their noble efforts, Blaney says now, ten years later, abuse towards women is still a problem that Homalco and many other communities continue to grapple with.

Studies peg the rate of Indigenous women who have experienced violence within their own communities as high as 90 per cent.

“I did my best,” Blaney said. “It didn’t work out for me. There’s just too much internal strife.”

She sees women from her home community in Vancouver every so often, she said, through her work with the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

Blaney is an uplifting presence to other Aboriginal women not only because she can relate to their struggles, but because she also uses her culture to guide her work.

When she was a young teen, she went through puberty rights, which involved bathing in a river every day for a year and cooking for her community.

“I served the elders, I served the community, so those teachings have been invaluable and gave me a discipline that I could not have attained otherwise,” she said.

“Now when I do this work I’m very disciplined. It’s self-sacrificing in a lot of ways, but I think that’s our teaching anyways, as Indigenous peoples.”

By now, the small room is near-full of TV crews, reporters from many of the major news outlets and several Downtown Eastside residents who are gathering at the windows to see what all the action is about.

Her fellow committee members are beside her at the table, a cluster of microphones now in front of them, and cameras begin to flash. Blaney looks apologetic, but everyone is looking at her expectantly.

There’s a fire behind her eyes as she gets ready to speak, articulate and strong words that come from years of education and experience, but more than that, a real thirst for change.

When asked how she feels that none of this, the inquiry, the interest, would be happening without people like her, she stays humble, choosing to acknowledge those who came before her.

For Blaney, it’s not a choice, it’s what she’s always done — standing up for her sisters.

The CTV reporter who’s been waiting hurries up to the table and turns on her microphone.

Ontario’s strategy to end violence against Indigenous women long overdue: Alderville shelter counsellor
by Karen Longwell, Northumberland News, March 24, 2016


Indigenous women in Ontario are three times more likely to be murdered than other women.

As a consequence of intergenerational trauma, Indigenous children and youth are overrepresented in child protection services.

At the 2015 National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Ontario’s delegation tabled 10 Pan-Canadian Actions to address violence against Indigenous women and girls across Canada.

Ontario will host the fifth National Aboriginal Women’s Summit in the fall of 2016.

NORTHUMBERLAND -- An Aboriginal woman in Canada is three times more likely to be murdered than her non-Aboriginal counterparts.

The Statistics Canada number is not unfamiliar to Samantha Cunningham, a child and youth counsellor with Anishnaabe Kwewag Gamig Inc. Regional Women’s Shelter in Alderville. Ms. Cunningham is working on her master’s degree in Indigenous studies at Trent University.

She hopes a new Ontario government strategy aimed at reducing violence against Indigenous women is a step in the right direction.

“It is long overdue,” said Ms. Cunningham.

Walking Together: Ontario’s Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women was released in February. The strategy incorporates a number of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.

The government has committed $100 million over three years to support implementation of the strategy, which it developed in collaboration with Indigenous partners of Ontario’s joint working group on violence against Aboriginal women.

Collaboration is key when considering policies to prevent violence against Indigenous women, said Ms. Cunningham.

“We have failed in the past,” she said. “Indigenous people know best what they need.”

The reasons why Indigenous women are more likely to experience violence are complex, she said.

The legacies of colonization such as the residential schools and the 60’s scoop, socio-economic conditions like poverty, and sexism, racism and discrimination have all played roles in the breakdown of families for Aboriginal peoples, according to the You Are Not Alone toolkit from the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

The 60’s scoop refers to the practice of removing Aboriginal children from their communities through adoption without the knowledge or consent of families and bands.

Wanda McIvor, Anishnaabe Kwewag Gamig Inc., executive director, said she was one of those children adopted at age 10 to a non-Aboriginal family after her parents died. She returned to her home community of Alderville First Nation 20 years ago and noticed how the community was starting to get back in touch with its traditional roots. People now participate in traditional ceremonies and sweats.

There is a misconception that Indigenous people live on reserves when, in fact, the majority live in urban areas, said Ms. Cunningham. Indigenous women experience a higher level of violence whether they live on or off a reserve, she added.

“It’s a bigger problem than just one community ... it’s a country-wide issue,” she said.

As a regional shelter, Anishnaabe Kwewag Gamig Inc. serves women and children from outside Alderville. Ms. McIvor said approximately 70 to 80 per cent are not from Alderville and many women choose to stay outside their community.

Whether or not the women have Indigenous roots, the shelter offers traditional teachings as a way to heal, said Ms. McIvor. The teachings, such as the Medicine Wheel, give women a way to look at the whole self -- physical, mental, spiritual and emotional, she said. The teachings help build self-esteem, she added.

Looking at ways to resolve violence against Indigenous women, Ms. Cunningham said educating the public, offering positive role models, reclaiming traditional teachings and including Indigenous history in school curriculums at a larger scale are important.

The shelter collaborates with other aboriginal shelters in sharing information on best approaches, said Ms. McIvor.


• Support for children, youth and families, including launching a new family well-being program to support Indigenous families in crisis and help communities deal with the effects of intergenerational trauma. Ontario will provide funding to programs that Indigenous communities and organizations will design and deliver to meet their unique needs

• Community safety and healing, including developing a survivor-oriented strategy to assist in the identification, intervention and prevention of human trafficking in Ontario. The government will also develop and expand programs that support the health and well-being of Indigenous survivors, families, affected communities and even the perpetrators of violence

• Policing and justice, including developing a new police training curriculum

• Prevention and awareness, including public education campaigns to change harmful attitudes and norms that perpetuate violence against Indigenous women and girls

• Leadership, collaboration, alignment and accountability to continue to build strong relationships with Indigenous partners and the federal government

• Improved data and research to guide the partners in developing new programs and policies that fit the needs of Indigenous communities.


Anishnaabe Kwewag Gamig Inc. Regional Women’s Shelter Crisis Lines: 905-352-3708 or 1-800-388-5171
Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre: 1-8665-298-7778
Peterborough/Northumberland Victim Services: 1-888-822-7729
Assaulted Women’s Help Line: 1-866-863-0511
Northumberland Services for women: 1-800-263-3757
Native Women’s Association of Canada:


• Aboriginal women 15 years and older are three to five times more likely to experience violence than non-Aboriginal women.
• Rates of spousal assault against Aboriginal women are more than three times higher than those against non-Aboriginal women.
• 54 per cent of Aboriginal women reported severe forms of family violence, such as being beaten, being choked, having a gun or knife used against them, or being sexually assaulted, versus 37 per cent of non-Aboriginal women.

Source: Statistics Canada’s 2004 General Social Survey

21 September 2012
by Cherry Smiley & Fay Blaney
Shan Newspaper, Voices From The World of Ecospirituality

As Indigenous women living on occupied territories now known as Canada, who have survived over 500 years of attempted genocide, we declare:

1. We, Indigenous women, will not allow anyone or anything to break the ties that bind us. Despite the  impacts of colonialism - the racism, sexism, poverty and violence that pervade our lives and communities, working to divide us both inside and out - we are profoundly aware of our connectedness to each other as women, to our ancestors, and to our lands. No man, men, or external force will ever ultimately sever these ties.

2. Our analysis of prostitution as a form of violence against women and as a system of colonialism is the result of over five centuries of resistance stories, stories told to us by our Grandmothers, who have retold the stories of their Grandmothers, who have retold the stories of their Grandmothers. This analysis is based on our own life experiences, on the life experiences of our mothers, our sisters, and all our relations. It is based on theory and knowledge constructed collectively by Indigenous women.

3. Purposeful legal tolerance of prostitution and pornography, as with the Indian Act and the residential school system, was and is an external colonial system imposed on Indigenous women and girls in continued attempts to harm and destroy us.

4. We, Indigenous women, reject the racist assumption that prostitution was ever part of our traditional practices. We denounce the idea that we are objects to be bought and sold.

5. We, Indigenous women, reject the capitalism that has resulted in the theft and destruction of our homelands and our environment. We reject the International capitalism and greed that also drives the “sex industry”, an industry that regards Indigenous women and girls as objects to be sold at the highest price, should we survive the transaction. We reject the colonial terminology of “sex work”, as it hides the racist, sexist, and classist realities of prostitution. “Sex work” masks the violence that our sisters struggle against on a daily basis and repackages that violence as a form of freely chosen labour.

6. We, Indigenous women, reject the imposition of patriarchy, which has had devastating and deadly effects for Indigenous women and girls. We face male violence within our own families and communities, and often we are pushed out of these very communities seeking safety. We are forced to migrate into cities where we continue to face physical, emotional, and sexual violence at the hands of men, including at the hands of johns, pimps, brothel owners, and traffickers. We demand a return to our traditional values that place women and girls in high esteem.

7. The Nordic model of state policy will give Indigenous women and girls the best chance of not only survival, but life. This model includes law reform that criminalizes the male demand for paid sex and decriminalizes prostituted women, offers comprehensive social programs to all women and girls, and educates the public about prostitution as a form of male violence against women and girls.  We, Indigenous women, believe this model encourages true social change that works in our interest.

8. We, Indigenous women, reject the total decriminalization and/or legalization of prostitution as an acceptable solution to sexual violence. The total decriminalization and/or legalization of prostitution only encourages the racist and deadly male demand for access to the bodies of women and girls, with Indigenous women and girls being disproportionately targeted.

9. We, Indigenous women, reject the patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist male perception that our sole worth is as sexual objects. We recognize that prostitution and pornography, incest, physical and sexual assault, and murder exist on a continuum of male violence and hatred toward Indigenous women and girls. The tragic outcome of that hatred is the over 580 documented cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

10. We, Indigenous women and girls, have survived over 500 years of attacks on our cultures, our bodies, our lands, and our lives. We refuse to abandon our future generations to the colonial sexist violence that is prostitution and we demand an immediate end to the male demand for paid sex.

Declaration presented by AWAN Members Cherry Smiley & Fay Blaney at Women's Worlds 2011, July 6, 2011.

Hundreds gather to honour lives of missing, murdered aboriginal women
by Dave Stewart, October 04, 2016

Premier Wade MacLauchlan speaks with some of the people who attended the Sisters in Spirit Vigil in Charlottetown on Tuesday, held to honour the lives of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. The premier told the crowd the province will be inviting the national inquiry to come to P.E.I. to hear from the Island’s First Nation’s people. MacLauchlan is the first P.E.I. premier to attend the Sisters in Spirit Vigil in the 11 years it has been held in Charlottetown, according to an organizer.

Support, awareness part of Sisters in Spirit National Day of Vigils event at Confederation Landing Park in Charlottetown

For Melissa Peter-Paul, Tuesday was a day of support.

The member of the Abegweit First Nation was one of about 300 people who attended the Sisters in Spirit National Day of Vigils event at Confederation Landing Park in Charlottetown on Tuesday.

“I want to be here in support of family and friends that have women or family members who have gone missing,’’ Peter-Paul said.

The event was one of hundreds of similar vigils that took place across the country, organized by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).

The NWAC has gathered and catalogued information about 582 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, with the oldest dating back to 1944, although most of them have been much more recent. It also says there are likely many more cases to catalogue.

Of the cases, the NWAC has documented, 67 per cent are murder cases, 20 per cent are cases of missing women or girls, four per cent have been ruled a suspicious death and nine per cent are cases where the nature of the case is unknown.

“Every year there’s more and more people, so that’s a good sign,’’ Peter-Paul said, referring to the independent national inquiry launched in August by the federal government. “More people are knowing about it.’’

This is the 11th year a vigil for missing and murdered aboriginal women has been held in Charlottetown.

“It all started with the national aboriginal women’s association of Canada (having) members, women and family members coming forward because their loved ones have been missing or murdered and there was no inquiry,’’ said Judy Clark, president of the Aboriginal Women’s Association of P.E.I. “They needed someone to advocate for them.’’

Clark said more people are coming forward now that the inquiry is happening.

“Now it is safe to talk; now it is OK to share your story.’’

Clark was happy to see Premier Wade MacLauchlan attend (she said it’s the first time a premier has attended the Charlottetown vigil) and tell the crowd the province will be inviting the commission to come to P.E.I. and talk to the provinces First Nations people.

“As a collective, we’re coming together now and to see this many (people) show up . . .’’ she said of the crowd, her voice trailing off. “This gives an opportunity for healing and for family members to talk about that and how they feel and have closure.’’

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