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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Wind River Tribes Collaborate To Combat Violence Against Women
By Melodie Edwards • May 12 2018
Tribal News

Jean Harris alleges she was attacked by her boyfriend and four of his friends, fracturing her skull. The MRI shows it dented in, as Harris says, "like an egg as if someone had punched it in and it didn't break the yolk completely."

An Attack

It was on Thanksgiving night that Eastern Shoshone member Jean Harris’ life took a terrifying turn. She had been waiting for a text from her Northern Arapaho boyfriend of over three years, asking her to come pick him up and bring him home. He’d been staying with his parents for several weeks and she missed him. When she heard from him and thinking she’d be right back, she left her three children laying asleep in their beds. She put on her clothes, re-applied her makeup and drove from her house in Lander to his parents’ house on the reservation to get him.

When she got there, he was waiting at the gate. But she said he didn’t get in the car.

“He said, ‘babe, come give me a hug.’ I haven’t seen you for a while. So I said, okay. I got out of my car. I went over to give him a hug and as he opened the gate, people came out from behind the trees and started coming toward me,” said Harris, her voice trembling in the telling. “And all I could hear them saying was, ‘light her up! Let’s kill that white expletive. I’m a half-breed,” she explained.

Harris is a small woman, but she fought back. She ran to her car for pepper spray and used it on her alleged assailants. Later, she learned that one was her boyfriend’s new girlfriend. His brothers also joined the attack, five people in all. But the spray didn’t deter them.

“They drug me inside of their property line,” she said. “I curled up in a ball to protect myself the best that I could and prayed that I would make it through.”

She later told police they kicked her and hit her with bricks. Afterwards, Harris called Bureau of Indian Affairs police. It took them an hour to arrive. And when they did, she felt they treated her like the criminal.

“Perhaps the officers could have gotten some more training or at least some reading materials or a briefing about domestic violence and how hard it is to report when the person you love so much hurts you,” said Harris.

At the hospital, Harris found out she’d suffered a skull fracture. But the police made no arrests that night or since. In fact, she said she’s been attacked twice since then and lives in fear that she will again. The county courts issued protection orders on some of her attackers, but she said her case isn’t severe enough for the federal courts, and that tribal courts don’t currently have enough leverage to stop the violence.

Breaking the Cycle

Harris’s case is a familiar one to Eastern Shoshone Councilman: Leslie Shakespeare, who used to be a BIA police officer.

“Seeing that, just on a nightly basis, really got to me thinking,” he said, “well, how do we break that cycle?”

He even saw it in his own life with his sister, whose partner was non-Native. Often, he saw her beaten and bruised.

“I remember being fresh out of the academy thinking I could change the world and arrest everybody’s problems away,” Shakespeare said. “And I remember asking her, why don’t you call the police? Why don’t you do that? And she had stated, ‘well, I did call before’ and kind of gave me a smile and said, ‘nothing is going to happen.”

That was the last time Shakespeare saw his sister. She died under suspicious circumstances related to domestic violence, and her case never made it to court. Shakespeare said that’s because his tribe wasn’t legally allowed to prosecute non-Natives at the time.

So last year, when Shakespeare became a councilman, he decided to act. And the timing was just right. The two tribes were just forming their own joint tribal court system, bypassing the old BIA one. And in 2013, the Obama administration re-authorized the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA. This update to the 1994 law now gave tribes the ability to vigorously prosecute such cases with stiffer fines and sentences, although they still won’t be able to issue felonies, only misdemeanors.

Northern Arapaho chairman Roy Brown sits next to Shakespeare in the council chambers. He said it hasn’t been easy, or cheap. It’s involved arranging for many more prison beds, making sure non-native defendants have legal representation, and that all their attorneys and judges are law-trained. To tackle that last obstacle, they initiated a national employment search. Brown said it didn’t long before those job applications started rolling in. Every single one of them were from Native women.

“It was a welcome surprise, but at the same time it wasn’t surprising because Native women were the ones going to law school and focusing on issues like these,” said Brown.

Next Steps

Now, all the positions have been hired and the Department of Justice is finalizing the paperwork so the tribal courts can start implementing the new domestic violence law. The Wind River Reservation is only the 18th of the 573 federally recognized tribes to adopt it.

“It’s very expensive,” said Caroline Laporte with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. “And really it’s not being funded at the appropriate level from the federal government.” She said Congress only budgets $25 million a year to help tribes succeed in implementing it.

But she said, according to a new five-year report by the National Congress of American Indians, VAWA 2013 has been very successful with 143 arrests nationwide, most of them of non-Natives, and 74 of those arrests led to convictions.

“One, non-natives are now hearing, okay, I can no longer get away with this. And two, Native women are hearing, okay, I can’t be abused repeatedly without someone coming to my assistance,” she said.

But, Laporte said, the act needs an update. Tribes still can’t hold abusers accountable if they assault a child, only their partner. And they can’t take cases where a victim was assaulted by a stranger, only if they were in an intimate relationship.

“That’s a big loophole,” Laporte said, “and that’s something that we’re going to try to address this year.”

As for Jean Harris, she has hope the new, tougher law will be enforced in time to help her before her next attack.

“I know it’s a long process, but it makes me feel like I don’t matter,” said Harris. “And I have to tell myself all the time, I do matter. I do matter.”

The Trump Administration is due to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act sometime this year.

'Urgent actions' needed to address violence against Indigenous women and girls — UN report

Special rapporteur says Canada should start addressing issues now and not wait for national inquiry to end

by Chantelle Bellrichard · CBC News · Apr 27, 2018

Dubravka Simonovic was appointed to her role as UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women in June 2015 by the UN Human Rights Council. (OSCE/Micky Kroell)

The United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women had some strong words for Canada at the end of her 13-day visit, saying the country has "unfinished business that requires urgent actions."

In presenting her preliminary findings on Monday in Ottawa, Dubravka Simonovic said violence against women in Canada remains a "serious pervasive and systematic problem."

Her visit involved looking into violence against women overall in Canada. But she spent a considerable amount of time speaking specifically to immediate actions that should be taken in addressing the safety and well-being of Indigenous women and girls.

"Indigenous women from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities are overtly disadvantaged within their societies and in the larger national scheme," she wrote in her end of mission statement.

"Indigenous women face marginalization, exclusion and poverty because of institutional, systemic, multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination that has not been addressed adequately by the State."

In particular, she said Canada needs to address the root causes that lead to disproportionate levels of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

'Being Indigenous and female is a risk'

During Simonovic's time in Canada she met with federal, provincial and territorial governments, independent institutions and advisory boards.

She visited women's shelters, correctional facilities and had a conference call with the chief commissioner of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Marion Buller.

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While commending the government for following through with the establishment of a national inquiry, Simonovic also said the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Committee had also pointed out several other measures that should be taken by Canada.

"In addition to this national inquiry, urgent actions are needed now," she said.

"They are needed. They could be done now, irrespective of decision if this inquiry is going to be concluded soon."

Issues such as the high number of Indigenous children in the welfare system and the overrepresentation of indigenous women in the prison system should be addressed now, she said.

Marion Buller, the chief commissioner for the national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

According to the interim report from the national inquiry, "simply being Indigenous and female is a risk."

The report details how Indigenous women are physically and sexually assaulted almost three times more often than non-Indigenous women in Canada. They are also experiencing domestic violence at higher rates and are roughly seven times more likely to be killed by a serial killer.

"It is not sufficient to work only on one issue," said Simonovic, adding that changes are needed across the board.

"What I'm seeing is only inquiry process ongoing, but other processes are not implemented or ongoing."

Amplifying voices

Dr. Sarah Hunt, a professor at UBC's First Nation and Indigenous Studies program who focuses much of her attention on issues concerning Indigenous girls, women and two-spirit people, said it's notable how much time the special rapporteur spent talking specifically about violence against Indigenous women and girls.

"The fact that this was such a huge focus of her visit shows the amount of work that we still have to do," said Hunt.

Sarah Hunt is Kwakwaka’wakw, from the Kwagiulth community in Tsaxis. She holds a PhD from Simon Fraser University and currently works as a professor in the UBC First Nation and Indigenous Studies program. (Supplied by Sarah Hunt)

In laying out her roadmap for change Hunt said it was concerning that Simonovic didn't mention transgender or two-spirit people, or how Indigenous law and principles fit into the equation.

Still, she said the preliminary findings were strong in a lot of ways, and that they closely echo what Indigenous women have been advocating for for decades.

"So I think that this can be used to amplify those long-term advocates in our community," she said. "That's where it can be a real tool for change."

When asked what value she sees in having the special rapporteur call attention to violence against women in Canada, Hunt said she thinks it can be a valuable pressure mechanism for the government to take action, in an area where things have been slow to change.

'I think she really nailed it'

For her part, NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson is taking the special rapporteur's visit and statements as an opportunity to remind the federal government of its responsibility to take action.

"She was only in Canada for 13 days but I really think she really nailed it," said Malcolmson, reflecting on what Simonovic presented in her preliminary findings.

Sheila Malcolmson is the MP for Nanaimo—Ladysmith and critic for women's equality. (Twitter)

She said Canada has made a lot of commitments on the international stage when it comes to the human rights of Indigenous Peoples and sees this visit as a good accountability mechanism for the federal government.

"Yes, it's good to say that you're aligned and that you will honour human rights, but you can't just say it — you have to do it," said Malcolmson.

She said while things like a national action plan on violence against women are important, there are actions that need to, and could, happen immediately — like more domestic violence shelters in First Nations communities, better public transportation in rural areas and more affordable housing.

Malcolmson said the Trudeau government has acknowledged what needs to be done.

"But then when the budget comes, we see that the spending is for the year 2021," she said.

"It's extremely discouraging, for a government that's willing to spend money but somehow not willing to spend it right now in a way that would change immediately the lives of people that need the government's help the most."

Simonovic is expected to issue a final report to the UN Human Rights Council on her findings next year.

Human trafficking trend very real in Kings County

By SARA ERICSSON, June 2, 2018

“These youths are at risk of disappearing and being swept up by this — it’s textbook and it’s a growing issue.” 

Russ Sanche has worked to fight human trafficking abroad, where he saw children without identities disappear from small villages. He saw the same thing happening in Calgary and now sees potential for it to start happening in the Annapolis Valley. (SARA ERICSSON KINGSCOUNTYNEWS.CA)

RELATED: ‘He owned me’: Kings County woman talks escaping human trafficking ...

Russ Sanche is seeing trends he experienced while working to fight human trafficking abroad happen in Kings County.

That trend is the disppearance of children or youths with a lack of identity and support system who slip through the cracks of the social justice system.

And while Sanche and Halifax RCMP human trafficking co-ordinator Cpl. David Lane agree anyone can be groomed for human trafficking, they also both state these youths are more at risk because their vulnerabilities make them easier to target.

“These youths are at risk of disappearing and being swept up by this — it’s textbook and it’s a growing issue,” said Sanche.

Tip of the iceberg: Sanche

Lane confirmed in an email statement that there have been two RCMP investigations into human trafficking in Kings County since 2014.

The crime, which the officer said is difficult to track, is often larger than numbers show, since data is hard to collect and the crime difficult to prosecute.

Sanche believes two investigations represent just “the tip of the iceberg” — a problem so difficult to follow it remains hidden.

“We’ve heard the trafficking route may start in rural areas, then extend from Halifax to Moncton and to Montreal, but don’t know specifically how this impacts us locally,” he said.

Lane described how at-risk youth facing challenges at home, school, or even with themselves, who have pre-existing trauma in their lives, are prime victims for traffickers looking for a vulnerable target.

Common methods of targeting occur online through social media, and in person at locations like group homes, schools and malls.

“These predators will . . . recruit them into the sex trade by promising them a better life than what they are currently experiencing,” said Lane.

A core group at risk of being trafficked

The Homeless No More strategy to eliminate youth homelessness in the Annapolis Valley over the next 10 years was created by The Portal, Kentville’s youth outreach centre where Sanche works as director, and found an average of 70 youths are homeless on any given night in Kings County.

It also found 38 per cent of these youths are exploited for sexual work and other forms of illegal labour.

Sanche says this demographic of homeless youths who have lost their formal identities become even more of a target when they are disengaged and without a home base.

He recalls an instance just three weeks ago when a female previously supported by the Portal found herself in Moncton with her boyfriend, staying among a group of men who began discussing how she could make money by “working” in Montreal.

Sanche was working to get her back here and, just before he called the RCMP, she called him and told him she’d returned safe.

Another instance, two years ago, involved a 15-year-old male who’d met a much older American man online who then travelled here, booked a hotel room and convinced him to visit.

“This young man was sexually assaulted by this older man. It happened right here, under the noses of everyone,” he said, mentioning other youths he’s worked with who have traded sex for a place to stay.

“I can’t say any of these youths were trafficked, but it’s a slippery slope from this to becoming a victim.”

Problem not just abroad, but in Canada, too

Lane wants the public to realize most people trafficked in Canada experience it within our domestic borders. Those smuggled in internationally represent a small piece of this large problem, he says.

Reports Lane has studied indicate human trafficking has become the second-most-common organized crime activity in the world, second only to illicit drug sales.

Victims are constantly on the move, pushed by their trafficker through different towns across a region or the entire country on a regular basis.

“This makes it difficult for the police to track the crime, as well as for the victims to develop a support system to help them out of their situation,” he said.

Lane says trafficking victims are often forced to work in strip clubs, massage parlours and can be made to advertise themselves online as well, and they often don’t realize they are being victimized.

“Often, the victims . . . believe they are in a relationship with their trafficker. Other times, (they) are too afraid to seek help,” he said.

Awareness: a silver lining

A small positive note to consider is the growing awareness of the public of the threat posed by human trafficking across the country, says Lane. While reports of the crime’s frequency are increasing, so too is the amount of people informed on what to look for in identifying the problem.

When compared to what people knew on the subject in 2005 — the year human trafficking legislation was introduced into the Criminal Code — the increase in understanding is clear.

This is not the only positive note, says Dale, who added that police are working with non-government organizations to identify and fight human trafficking, and are constantly attempting to improve their response to the problem.

Sanche also looks to small changes that could mean significant improvements in Kings County, like changing how authorities process victims’ disclosures of sexual assaults or trafficking.

“The youths who’ve experienced previous trauma don’t want to disclose. To fix this, we’ve got to change the system and make that first interaction comfortable,” said Sanche.

“This decreases the chance of them becoming marginalized and later victimized. We make sure they are heard and that they have support — that then ensures they have a name, and they don’t disappear.”

Human trafficking watch signs

Cpl. David Lane offered several signs of human trafficking:

Victims are often branded with a tattoo or other marking with their trafficker’s name to show ownership

Victims are moved often and will have unexplained income (i.e. brand-name handbags, high-end clothing, vehicles, etc.)

Victims will not want to talk to their family about the relationship they have with their trafficker.

In the beginning, the victims may disappear with their trafficker “boyfriend" for days at a time.

The family may never, or just very briefly, meet their daughter’s trafficker.

Victims may not have access to identification or bank accounts.

Victims may be hard to get in touch with and not free to talk when they do call home.

World’s second-largest organized crime activity

“Anyone can become a victim of human trafficking,” says Halifax RCMP Cpl. David Lane, the city’s human trafficking response co-ordinator.

The problem, which has become the second-largest common organized crime activity, is a hard one to detect for many reasons, chief among them that the relationship between the trafficker and their victim can resemble a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, according to Lane.

“Although your daughter/son may appear to be choosing this lifestyle, they are not choosing it at all — they are being forced,” he said.

He also describes how victims become involved by being tricked into the sex trade by their pimps, who refer to it all as “the game.”

Lane urges parents to talk to their children about the threat of human trafficking, to make them aware of what to look for and where to get help if they feel concerned about a person who makes them uncomfortable.

“Once they become involved, victims are being exploited and controlled, making it difficult for them to leave,” said Lane.

Anyone can report suspicious incidents to the local police detachment or call the Nova Scotia Human Trafficking Tip Line: (902) 449-2425.

Experts say human traffickers are out in full force now that kids are out of school

Native American Women Are Facing a Crisis

Three senators are hoping to combat what they see as an overlooked epidemic: missing, murdered and trafficked women.

By Maya Salam, April 12, 2019

“It’s long past time the topic of missing and murdered indigenous women received this type of national attention.”

— Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska

Native American women and girls are facing an epidemic of violence that is hiding in plain sight. They are being killed or trafficked at rates far higher than the rest of the U.S. population (on some reservations, women are 10 times as likely to be murdered as the national average, according to the Justice Department). Some simply disappear, presumably forced into sex trafficking.

These cases often go unsolved. Now, three senators are hoping to combat this epidemic.

The bipartisan bill, called the Not Invisible Act of 2019, was introduced last week by Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska; Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat from Nevada; and Jon Tester, Democrat from Montana. It aims to change what the Indian Law Resource Center has called a “lack of a diligent and adequate federal response” to these crimes.
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The bill would create an advisory committee of local, tribal and federal stakeholders to devise best practices to combat the problem and make recommendations to government — efforts that would include paving a way for federal agencies, law enforcement and elected tribal officials to collaborate more easily.

Cortez Masto told HuffPo that she believed the bill would help federal agencies improve and quicken their response by focusing on why these women and girls are disappearing and where those who are being trafficked are going — as well as on how to collect data and educate law enforcement on sex trafficking and start prosecuting offenders.

Data on the issue is scattershot at best, but here’s some of what is known about the problem:


84 percent

That’s how many indigenous women have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Justice.


1 in 3

That’s how many Native American women have been raped or experienced an attempted rape, according to the Justice Department, more than twice the national average.


13 percent

That’s how many sexual assaults reported by Native American women result in arrest, according to the Justice Department, compared with 35 percent for black women and 32 percent for white women.



The number of indigenous women and girls who have disappeared or been killed in 71 urban American cities in 2016, according to a November report by Urban Indian Health Institute.


116 cases

In 2016, 5,712 indigenous women and girls were reported missing, but only 116 were logged by the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database, according to the National Crime Information Center.
From the archives, 2012: “When I think about it, I say, ‘What am I going to do?’”

In 2012, a front-page story in The Times delved into the epidemic of rape on American reservations, the obstacles the survivors face and failed attempts by the federal government to help.

Lisa Marie Iyotte, then 43 years old, told The Times she was sexually assaulted on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, but prosecutors never told her why they did not charge the man arrested in the crime.

He was later convicted of another rape, and when he was released from prison and moved back to the reservation, no one told her, she said.

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