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.

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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.

The nurse tracking America's 'epidemic' of murdered women
Dawn Wilcox, an activist documenting femicide in the United States, at her home in Plano, Texas. Dawn’s project, Women Count, focuses on women killed in 2018 and has so documented 1,635 cases so far.

Dawn Wilcox’s project telling women’s stories is filling a gap in the country’s data on killings

by Dani Anguiano, 11 Apr 2019, The Guardian

Dawn Wilcox adds more names to her list every day. Sometimes as many as 50.

From her home in a quiet cul de sac in Plano, Texas, Wilcox runs Women Count USA – a project honoring victims of what she believes to be America’s unseen crisis: femicide.

Wilcox has spent much of the past two years scouring online news stories and social media for reports on women and girls killed by men in the US. She compiles their names in a publicly available spreadsheet and shares details about their lives and deaths with nearly 6,000 people on the Women Count USA Facebook page.

It is no small task. By Wilcox’s count, in 2018 it happened to at least 1,600 women and girls from Alaska to New York, of all races, ages and income status. They were killed in their beds and in their cars, at work and in yoga class, by their fathers, husbands, ex-boyfriends, cousins, sons, neighbors and strangers.

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Wilcox’s work is filling a gap in data on femicide, typically defined as the killing of women and girls because of their gender, said Jodie Roure, an expert on violence against women in the Americas. The federal government tracks domestic violence killings, referred to as intimate partner homicides, but doesn’t specifically compile data on femicide, Roure said, in part because the US hasn’t adopted a standardized definition for the term as in some Latin American countries.

Without a centralized system to gather data on incidents of violence against women and girls, those crimes are underreported, Roure, who is a professor at John Jay College, said. “The data that does exist we know is alarming,” she added. “Violence against women is normalized. And because it’s normalized we don’t see it as a crisis.”

The Violence Policy Center, which produces an annual report on female homicide victims based on FBI data, echoes Wilcox’s concerns about violence against women in the US. There aren’t adequate resources assigned to reducing it, the VPC legislative director, Kristen Rand, said. Congress let the landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act expire during the most recent government shutdown.

But individual stories can help spur action, Rand said, and that is where Women Count USA comes in. “People look at statistics and they too often don’t see what’s behind the statistics – this humanizes the problem,” Rand said. “Every single one of those people is a human being with a family.”

Using Google alerts, news reports and her free time, Wilcox has taken it upon herself to tell the stories of America’s murdered women.

Dawn Wilcox documents femicide in the United States for her project, Women Count, from her home in Plano, Texas.

On a Saturday afternoon in January, Wilcox is perched over her computer again, the light of the screen reflecting in her glasses as she clicks away. Since last spring, in between days at the elementary school where she works as a nurse and evenings at home watching movies with her husband, Wilcox has searched for a photo of Alina Duwyenie, an Arizona woman who was killed by her boyfriend. Martin Larney told police he shot Duwyenie because he was upset about what she was wearing.

Duwyenie proved particularly difficult to find. Facebook searches and news stories produced nothing. But on this afternoon, just as the sun is sinking into the horizon, she starts getting somewhere. Wilcox finds Duwyenie credited as an illustrator in a children’s book, that leads to the Facebook page of a colleague of the young woman, and finally, the photo.

Duwyenie is smiling. There are gems under her right eye and hair falling over one side of her face.

“There you are, I found you,” Wilcox says to the photo of the dark-haired 22-year-old. Then she adds Duwyenie’s photo to her list.

Finding photos of murdered women is of particular importance to Wilcox. The faces that make up her list – a half-smile overlaid with a Snapchat filter, a preschooler grinning under a princess crown, a grey-haired woman holding a kitten – remind viewers that these women are more than just numbers.

Wilcox spends much of her time thinking about them. While at the grocery store or doctor’s appointments she writes notes to herself: leads to follow up on, women to include.

She started the project after the killings of Cecil the lion and Harambe the gorilla. There was such outrage over the animals’ deaths, and while Wilcox is an animal lover, she didn’t understand why there wasn’t the same level of concern for murdered women. “People are starting petitions and they’re marching and I’m like I just heard about three women killed today, what about them?”

A self-described information junkie, Wilcox, 55, has spent decades learning about domestic violence, in part because she has been a victim of it. A boyfriend once held her captive and abused her for hours after she tried to break up with him, Wilcox said. And for years Wilcox was married to a man who she says controlled what she wore, who she could vote for, and left her fearing for her life.

She tried to leave again and again. She knows why women stay, why it’s often the most dangerous when they try to leave and wishes people would ask, “why was he violent?” instead of “why did she stay?”

“Femicide, it’s the end road where all other abuses of women sort of lead. That is why words matter. It starts with dehumanizing language,” Wilcox said.

To Wilcox, the women on her list are victims of an epidemic unseen or ignored, the result of societal attitudes that see women’s lives as the property of men. Pushing back against that means documenting the victims, the impact of male violence, and the stories behind the numbers, like those of Katelin Crocker and Jamie Martin.

Crocker and Martin never knew each other. They lived more than 1,000 miles apart, but the nature of their deaths brought them together on Wilcox’s list.

In the final moments of her life, 19-year-old Katelin Crocker was packing up her makeup case with all the Kat Von D eyeshadows the young cosmetologist needed, her mother Johnnah Dixon Crocker said. A coroner would tell her mother that although she probably started to turn at the sound of her boyfriend, Alexander Harmon, cocking a 12-gauge shotgun, she died before she knew what hit her.

Jamie Martin spent the last minutes of her life staring down the barrel of a gun, according to her sister Jennifer Tice. Stacey Ayotte shot the mother of his two children in the front yard of her home in Tupper Lake, New York, on a cold May morning 18 months after she ended their long, abusive relationship. The first bullet hit her pelvis, but it was the second, fired six minutes later – the sound of which her mother would hear from half a mile away – that would kill her, Tice said. In Facebook comments, friends of Ayotte would ask what pushed him over the edge; some would blame Martin.

Jamie Martin and her daughter Alexis. Martin was killed in the front yard of her Tupper Lake, New York, home by the father of her two children.

A 2018 UN report on the gender-related killing of women and girls around the world found they face the greatest danger in their own homes, and that although the majority of murder victims are men, women are much more likely to be killed by those closest to them.

“Violence against women is so ubiquitous that it is invisible,” Wilcox said. “That one nurse in Texas can find 1,600 women that have been allegedly murdered by men in the United States in a single year, that is staggering.”

In the days after Jamie Martin’s death, her sister, Jennifer Tice, came across a tribute posted by Wilcox that she said beautifully described her sister, a mother and an artist who worked with people with disabilities.

The posting led Tice to the list, filled with the names of hundreds of other women who were murdered like Jamie: “I looked at the chart every single day. I guess to see my sister’s name and see how many people are living the life I’m living.”

Tracking these deaths is exhausting, and easily takes up Wilcox’s every free hour. But she finds time to step away from the project; she paints – mostly landscapes – watches TV shows like Leave It to Beaver, spends time with her family and reads. Although some titles, like a book about staging crime scenes, are related to her research.

Despite the difficult nature of her work, Wilcox is hopeful. A poem on her Facebook profile reads: “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world … the broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.”

“I care about all these women. I care they lived and I care that they were murdered but I can also compartmentalize it,” she says. “You can’t let this wreck you. You can’t be effective if you let it destroy you.”

Wilcox will dedicate herself to Women Count USA full time after retirement. She isn’t counting this year; instead she will go back and ensure she has the names of every woman killed in 2018. Eventually, she’d like to start working backwards, documenting all women and girls killed by men in the last 50 years to remind the world that they existed, and they mattered.

“Some of these women are killed in front of their children, they’re killed with their children. These are women being killed while they’re pleading for their lives. Even though I couldn’t do anything to stop it, this is my way of making sure they’re not completely alone – that I’ll be there to document it.”

King Khan pays tribute to Buffy Sainte-Marie and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls with new song
Melody Lau · CBC Music · Jul 01, 2020

'She is the Keeper of My Soul' is a response to Sainte-Marie's 1969 song, 'He's a Keeper of the Fire'

Indo-Canadian musician King Khan's new short film, Rat-Tribution, features a new song dedicated to Buffy Sainte-Marie and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Artwork by Saba Lou Khan, courtesy of King Khan)

In 1969, Buffy Sainte-Marie released the revolutionary album Illuminations. On it was a track called "He's a Keeper of the Fire," a blazing psychedelic number where Sainte-Marie belts passionately about a man who's "got a funny kinda voodoo, baby."

This Canada Day, Indo-Canadian musician King Khan (best known for his band King Khan and the Shrines) is releasing a song titled "She is the Keeper of My Soul," a song Khan describes as a "response to the epic anthem of Buffy Sainte-Marie."

The track, which was written by Khan and performed by his daughter Saba Lou, accompanies his short film titled Rat-Tribution Now, a project for the 2020 Pop Kultur Festival based in Berlin. The film, Khan says, "is an attempt at achieving retribution," referencing North America's historical mistreatment of Indigenous peoples. As such, the release of this song is also in dedication to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and proceeds from the song will go to the NDN COVID-19 Response Project.

"I have decided to release this song for Canada Day to be a stark reminder that these women are still ignored by the majority of people in Canada," Khan tells CBC Music over email. "The song asks, 'Who will be the keeper of my soul?' I wanted to write it from the perspective of MMIWG."

Written in a similar structure to Sainte-Marie's "He's a Keeper of the Fire," Khan's song confronts listeners with powerful questions:

When you put me down
Without a sound
How will the world ever know?

When my judgment day
Seems like it's gone astray
Who'll be the keeper of my soul?

Saba Lou, who is the main vocalist on the track, says that having a woman sing Khan's words "gives the words another meaning." She adds: "These topics need attention and awareness, so again and again they must be mentioned from all perspectives, using different approaches. I was glad when [Khan] asked me to sing it."

"Buffy's activism always inspired me, she's probably the most important Canadian singer of all time," Khan says, of Sainte-Marie's legacy as a musician. Another artist that "She is the Keeper of My Soul" is dedicated to is Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Khan says Rat-Tribution Now is "an homage" to Tagaq's 2016 music video for "Retribution."

"I am so happy that such a power frau has emerged from the aurora borealis," he adds. (Khan has also commissioned tarot illustrations of both Sainte-Marie and Tagaq by Game of Thrones graphic artist Michael Eaton for a tarot deck he is creating.)

King Khan teamed up with Game of Thrones graphic artist Michael Eaton on an upcoming tarot deck that includes illustrations of Canadian artists Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tagaq. (Courtesy of King Khan)

In addition to Rat-Tribution Now and "She is the Keeper of My Soul," Khan has spent his time in lockdown working with American social activist Malik Rahim on raising money for people in New Orleans who are in need of insulin supplies. Titled Just Insulin, the fundraising initiative aims to "uplift a community ravaged by diabetes, no access to medicine, with COVID-19 preying on healthy young people, killing them just like the cops do."

The hope is to "set up a source of Canadian insulin and send it to this community in New Orleans." Through tarot card readings, Khan has already raised close to $2,000 US.

For Khan, the time to be active is now, to confront problems in our reality and to channel change with creativity, especially as an artist. "This pandemic is not simply a wake-up call, it's utter devastation in your own backyard," he warns. "Creativity is our only way out."

"If you are not creating something to show your empathy, then you are useless," he adds. "Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer."

'I believe you': Indigenous survivors speak out about sexual abuse, assault in their own communities

Dialogue comes after former DJ Ian Campeau tweeted apology to his victims
Angela Sterritt · CBC News · Aug 09, 2020

Lauraleigh Paul's social media post about allegations of sexual assault by then Hollywood actor Duane Howard went viral. She is now encouraging others to speak out. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In the 10 days since Ian Campeau, former member of A Tribe Called Red, issued a Twitter apology for his "destructive behaviours and toxicity," Indigenous women have come forward with their experiences with the former DJ — and to talk more broadly about misogyny, abuse and assault in their own communities.

Polaris Prize winner Lido Pimento wrote a Facebook post alleging Campeau made unwanted advances toward her and used his fame and success to "prey on innocent people."

Roseanne Supernault, a Cree and Métis actress who took to Instagram to post allegations about Campeau aggressively coaxing her to have sex with him, says silence — for victims or witnesses — is no longer an option.

"There is this bystander culture that is so incredibly toxic," said Supernault.

Indigenous perpetrators, she says, have sometimes been protected by those in Indigenous communities out of a desire to protect the community and a fear of furthering the already present racism, shame and blame sustained by colonization.

"I would initially just jump to protecting my family, protecting the people around me, instead of holding them accountable," Supernault said.

Now, she's taken a hard line to protect victims rather than offenders.

"We have to let [offenders] learn their lesson and I will step forward and tell any victim I believe them," Supernault said.
Colonization and toxic masculinity

Lauraleigh Paul, who came forward in 2018 alleging The Revenant actor Duane Howard had sexually assaulted her when she was barely 16 years old, agrees with Supernault, saying it's important to look at the roots of toxic masculinity and rape culture.

"Colonization came about and implemented these toxic ideologies within our nations and communities and the oppression was very real," Paul said from her home in Vancouver.
Rachelle George is a Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh filmamker and poet who says being one of the first ones in her community to speak out about sexual abuse was very difficult, but imperative to stopping the abuse from happening again. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

She says in colonial times, at the height and in the fallout of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, Indigenous people went into survival mode and had very little support to get help for intergenerational trauma.

"Silence was their survival tool," Paul said.

"It's been kept quiet for so long and that worked for generations past, but it's not going to work for future generations."

She says there is a lack of fairness in the justice system for Indigenous people, and accountability has been difficult to obtain.

Paul says, as a child, she and her family took a high profile Indigenous leader to court and, while was charged, the justice system, the media and her own community treated her as if she was to blame for his behaviour and the charges.
'Hold them accountable'

Paul and other Indigenous women are now looking at ways to hold abusers to account. She and Supernault have used social media as a means to achieve accountability, while others have been proponents of restorative justice or fought for ways to strengthen the current justice system.

Rachelle George, a filmmaker and poet of the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations, says for too long victims have felt afraid to speak out, but it's time for the abusers to be afraid to abuse.

"Maybe they'll look at somebody they want to abuse and get scared ... and think, 'I can do 20 years in jail if I do this,'" said George, who is a survivor of sexual abuse.
Rosanne Supernault is a Cree and Metis actress and activist who is encouraging Indigenous survivors to speak out. She hopes that forgiveness and accountability will make Indigenous communities safer. (Facebook)

George, who is the granddaughter of Chief Dan George, says if more survivors came forward, it would be safer for others to also speak out.

"It's hard to be the first to come forward, but until you do, there will be no change," George said.

Supernault is a strong believer in restorative justice.

"I'm not making excuses for these men and their behaviour, but if we forgive them and hold them accountable that's where that healing can happen and we can't do that if we remain silent," she said.

She believes sexual assault and abuse can be lethal.

"So many of us take these wounds and internalize them and inflict them on ourselves," Supernault said.

She believes survivors benefit from building a close tight-knit support system, to prevent suicide and addictions.

"Please stay alive," she said.

Paul — whose post about a once rising star in Hollywood sexually assaulting her led to him losing jobs and credibility in the industry — wants survivors to know they are not alone.

"I believe you," she said.

"And I believe in you. You didn't deserve what happened to you. You are not alone and you can rise above this."

Indigenous #MeToo catching fire in B.C. First Nations communities

Lack of services prevents Indigenous sexual assault victims from coming forward, advocates say
Angela Sterritt · CBC · Oct 26, 2018

Lauraleigh Paul recently posted allegations of sexual assault against a Vancouver actor on social media. The post was shared thousands of times, with many young Indigenous women tagging their posts #itstime or #metoo. (Lauraleigh Paul)

A recent Facebook post by Lauraleigh Paul, the daughter of Vancouver artist Lawrence Paul, alleging an Indigenous actor had sexually assaulted her has spurred other Indigenous women to do the same.

Over the past week, scores of Indigenous people have shared their personal stories of sexual assault, harassment and abuse on Facebook. They have also contacted journalists and victim services.

The incidents cited have taken place in a range of settings, including within First Nations organizations, at powwows, during work trips with band councillors, during cultural events, in homes, on film shoots and in government offices.

One Indigenous woman posted to social media and called the CBC to disclose that when she was 15 years old she was sexually assaulted by an older man during a trip to Seattle for a powwow.

At the time, the man was a cultural leader in the Indigenous community in B.C., the woman said.
Higher stakes than Hollywood

Despite the recent revelations, several members of Indigenous communities say vulnerable and marginalized peoples are more cautious when it comes to bringing forward accusations of sexual assault and harassment.

And they have good reason.

"It is an extremely, deeply personal thing to disclose and in Indigenous communities you're dealing with, more often than not, smaller and remote communities," said Wawmeesh Hamilton, a journalist with The Discourse media outlet. Hamilton has done extensive research on Indigenous sex offenders in First Nations.

"If you have been sexually assaulted or sexually abused, you see your abuser probably every day — whether it's at home, outside in the community, at the band office, at the gym, at the community centre —​ you see them all the time," Hamilton said.

The stakes are even higher when you add poverty into the mix, and if one's abuser is a leader in the community, held in high regard or in charge of critical needs like housing.

Mavis Erickson, a Carrier lawyer who previously worked as a special representative for the protection of First Nations women's rights for the federal government, said many Indigenous people don't come forward with sexual assault allegations because there's a lack of resources such as shelters or victim support services in Indigenous communities.

"[Indigenous] women don't have the safety and security to name men as aggressors or predators in the community because they don't have a [safe] place to go to," said Erickson.

Toronto Star journalist Tanya Talaga spoke about the need for safe houses for Indigenous women and youth during two Massey Lectures this week in Vancouver.

The Anishinaabe author of the book Seven Fallen Feathers told audiences her research revealed a connection between sexual assault and abuse and teen suicide — a phenomenon that is 11 times more likely in some Indigenous communities.

On Thursday, the B.C government announced it is building 280 new transition housing units for women and children fleeing violence, but did not indicate if they will be in Indigenous communities or if spaces will be allocated to Indigenous women.

More women coming forward means a need for more services.

Jenna Forbes, executive director of the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society, said many Indigenous people are coming forward with stories of abuse.

"Our community is reliving and getting triggered, but there aren't enough counsellors, third parties for women to make police reports, and safe spaces for confidential conversations," Forbes added.

Ingrained code of silence

Erickson says the reticence of some victims to speak out is not just about poverty and the complexity of close-knit communities. Their reluctance to speak out goes back to the residential school experience.

"It's the same silence that took over our communities when it came to reporting sexual abuse within the church," Erickson said.

"I think that it's hard to come forward and make those allegations and be believed — it's the silence we learned in residential school to just to be quiet and shut up," she said.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recorded more than 150,000 Indigenous children who survived residential school, with more than 6,000 deaths.

But today, there are still people who don't believe abuse took place in the schools.

Erickson says some people's reluctance to believe this is another reason why some Indigenous people are hesitant to vocalize their abuse.
Jenna Forbes of the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society says it's important there be services for people who come forward with abuse stories. (Jessica Wood)

Forbes says regardless of the difficulty, the truth needs to come out.

"In the work I do, most people accused in a crime of violence want to say, 'I'm sorry I hurt you,' and move on. But we teach the person to be accountable because the victim will remember every detail," she said.

"The only path to closure on both sides of crime is to walk back through the situation, not around it or over it," she said.
Where to get help

Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour crisis line: 604-255-6344 or toll free 1-877-392-7583

Battered Women's Support Services: 604-687-1867

VictimLink B.C.: 1-800-563-0808
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868; Live Chat counselling at

Participants in a healing walk in Edmundston, N.B., carry a sign reading, 'Justice for Chantel Moore.' (Shane Magee/CBC)

Chantel Moore's family calls for justice, public inquiry during healing walk

Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, was shot and killed by police in Edmundston June 4

by Sarah Morin · CBC News · Jun 13, 2020, Updated: June 14

Hundreds gathered in cities across New Brunswick and in Halifax on Saturday afternoon to take part in a healing walk in honour of Chantel Moore, the 26-year-old Indigenous woman shot and killed by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Moore's family addressed the crowd of about 100 people at the end of the walk in Edmundston's town square, asking for justice and a full public inquiry into Chantel's death.

Joe Martin, a relative, said Moore was the second person in the family to die at the hands of a police officer.

"We've been hurt many times," he said. "How can we ever trust any police force? Why should we answer a door for a wellness check?"

"How in the hell did that happen?"

Moore, originally from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, was killed by Edmundston police on June 4 during a wellness check. Her funeral was Thursday. Quebec's independent police investigation agency, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, is investigating the shooting.

The agency is also investigating the death of a man from Metepenagiag First Nation who was shot and killed by RCMP Friday night. Friends and community members have identified the man killed as Rodney Levi, 48.

The silent healing walks began at 1 p.m. ADT Saturday in Edmundston, Fredericton and Moncton. Walkers wore orange-coloured clothing for Madawaska First Nation, which is near Edmundston. Others wore yellow and gold for Chantel Moore, whose favourite saying was "Stay Golden."

Chantel Moore's family led the march in Edmundston.

Martha Martin, Moore's mother, said all she wants is justice for her daughter.

"Nobody should have to feel afraid," she said.

She called on Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to educate each other so everyone can live in peace.

"We shouldn't have to be afraid of having that wellness call. The message today is we're going to come together as one and that's really important."

She said her heart goes out to families who are experiencing the same thing.

Most attendees wore masks and physically distanced themselve from others. Moore's family wore masks with her name written across it. Moore's six-year-old daughter Gracie gave out cards with her mother's name, photo and a message written on them.

Nora Martin, a relative of Moore's, said Gracie told her she didn't want to die like her mother.

"There's no way on this earth that Chantel should have been shoot five, six times," Nora Martin said. "No way. She did not deserve that."

Amanda Myran, an organizer of Fredericton's healing walk, said people are understandably angry and sad over Moore and Levi's deaths.

"I think having two Indigenous people killed in Wabanaki territory within the span of eight days speaks to the fact that this is a crisis and it needs to be addressed as such," Myran said.

Jake Stewart, New Brunswick's minister of Aboriginal Affairs, offered condolences to Moore's family and the community of Metepenagiag.

"I'm deeply sorry that this has happened," Stewart said.

Stewart admitted systemic racism exists throughout government. He said the death of Levi has amplified the call for politicians and the public to act.

Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard and New Brunswick's Lt. Gov Brenda Murphy also offered condolences.

"I'm shocked, I'm dismayed, I'm saddened and I'm angry that this systemic injustice has happened," Murphy said.

Those who took part in the walk used sacred drums to soothe shared anguish and wore ceremonial skirts and shirts to honour First Nations colours and pride.

Imelda Perley, the former Elder-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick and instructor at the Mi'kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre, said healing is crucial right now.

"Rather than showcasing anger, confusion, fear, I wanted us to unite in solidarity," Perley said Friday. "To pray and to call on our ancestors and allies to walk with us."

During the walk, women carried a bowl of water that was poured into the centre of a healing circle so Moore's family could witness the emotions being given back to Mother Earth.

"Our gift of water is to carry the emotions of all people who are feeling the pain," Perley said.

The healing walk should not be called or be seen as a protest, Perley said. The walk is Ikatomone, which translates to "Let's guard."

"Let's guard our spirits, our languages, our cultural ways of doing things. This is what I wanted to revitalize and remind the next generation that this is how we ask for justice."

Alberta woman who lost 2 daughters turns sorrow to hope in 200-km trek to Calgary for MMIW vigil

'I'm making a clear path for our younger ones,' says Stephanie English as she walked for a third year

This First Nation mother who lost two daughters has walked roughly 200 kilometres for the last three years from her southern Alberta home to Calgary to participate in a vigil and raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Stephanie English has endured the loss of two children.

As she prepared last week to set out on a 200-kilometre trek from the Piikani Nation in southern Alberta to Calgary, she said she's learned that through the storm there is light. 

"It's been a long journey. I walk in honour of my daughters' names, to keep their legacy alive, to let their story be told of just how it is for us Niitsitapi, us First Nations people," she said of the walk she's undertaken for the past three years.

"I'm making a clear path for our younger ones. So they don't have to go through what my mom went through, what my grandma went through and what I went through."

In 2016, English's daughter, Joey English, died of a drug overdose. Her body was later subjected to what a judge would call a "selfish" and "savage" crime.

Rather than call 911 when he found English dead, the man she had been doing drugs with stored her body under his bed for a day before dismembering her.

He put her remains in garbage bags and a suitcase and discarded them in several locations near his home.

'Why did they stop the search?'

Two days after English was reported missing by her family, some of her remains were discovered in a wooded area in Calgary's Crescent Heights neighbourhood.

Police searched a Calgary landfill in an attempt to find more of English's remains, but called off the search after four months.

Joey English, who was 25 when she died of an overdose, was the mother of three children. (Submitted by Stephanie English)

"Why did they stop the search? Is that what they think of us? Junk? Garbage? She's in the landfill. Why did they stop?" English said at the time.

Joshua Weise pleaded guilty to a charge of indignity to a human body and was sentenced to 18 months in jail plus a three-year period of probation with substance abuse treatment. 

Family and friends decried the sentence as too lenient, but the Crown prosecutor on the case said at the time the longest sentence he could hope for was 18 to 24 months in jail. 

Still looking for answers

English said her daughter was an independent woman who "always had a laugh, she always had a smile, regardless how hard life could be."

Her tragic death was the second time her mother would lose a daughter in the space of a year.

Alison English will be remembered by her mother for her charisma and laughter. (Submitted by Stephanie English)

Joey's younger sister, Alison English, died in 2015 in what RCMP said was a suicide. But Stephanie English doesn't agree.

"Five years later, we still don't have answers. We still don't have answers for her," she said of Alison, remembering her charisma, kindness, gentleness and compassion.  

"And she was really funny."

Vigil marks end of yearly voyage

English said she felt betrayed by how her daughters' cases were handled.

So she makes the annual journey to Calgary, in part, to try to raise awareness about the challenges Indigenous people face, on and off reserves.

"People need to start waking up," she said.

Stephanie English has lost two daughters in tragic circumstances. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

"I will keep walking every year until some change is really going to happen," she said.

In the meantime, English said, her trust in the creator is helping to make her strong.

"Even sometimes when it flickers, just a little bit, don't lose it. Just hold on. Hold on for dear life," she said. 

After arriving in Calgary on Sunday, English and her companions joined the Sisters in Spirit gathering at Olympic Plaza, an annual event to honour the more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

A young woman dances in front of the crowd gathered at Calgary City Hall for the Sisters of Spirit vigil held on Oct. 4, 2020. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

Objects of resistance: Protesting the feminicide of girls and women at the border

The first time that Laila Espinoza crossed the U.S.-Mexico border was as a young girl with her grandmother. “I’ve always been a border crosser,” said Espinoza. “It’s who I am.”

Espinoza grew up in Ciudad Juárez, a border city in Chihuahua, Mexico. As a child, she crossed the border hundreds of times — usually with her grandmother, who worked in El Paso cleaning houses. Every time they walked over the Paso del Norte International Bridge, Espinoza would look over the edge at the Rio Grande rushing below. “When I was child, the river was full — it was very, very alive,” said Espinoza.

She’d see entire families crossing the river — men carrying babies on their shoulders and women with bags on their heads. When the tide was low, they’d be walking. But when it was high, they’d have to swim.

“I remember always asking my grandma, ‘How come they can’t cross the way we do?’ And she would always just tell me the same answer: ‘Because they don’t have papers.’

“Papers or not,” said Espinoza today, “we find ways to cross the border — one that has been artificially imposed upon us and has separated families who have lived in the region for generations, before the wall was built.”

When Espinoza was 13, she was in Juárez, about to cross the bridge with her grandmother, when she stopped. Standing at least 10 feet tall at the entrance of the Paso Del Norte International Bridge was a wooden, magenta cross. Dozens of nails were pounded into the cross, on which little pieces of paper dangled from threads. On each paper was the name of a girl or woman who was missing or had been found murdered in Juárez. “The cross is right at the border,” said Espinoza, “which is just absolutely radical.”

In the months and years that followed, hundreds of magenta crosses began to show up all over Juárez — altars to the growing number of missing and murdered women and girls at the border. The brutal killings would become known as feminicides — a term defined by scholar Marcela Lagarde y de los Rios as gender-based violence characterized by state inaction. Since 1993, some 3,000 girls and women have been reported missing, and more than 600 have been found murdered, in and around Ciudad Juárez, with almost all of the killings going unpunished.

The crosses, along with murals of the missing and murdered girls and women painted on walls throughout the city, are powerful and enduring symbols of resistance, said Espinoza — a way that mothers and families reclaim public space in Ciudad Juárez and make the ongoing feminicides visible, when the government refuses to do so.

“The magenta crosses and the murals of missing and murdered women and girls all over Ciudad Juárez are forms of protest against gender-based violence so prevalent in our culture and so many cultures around the world,” said Espinoza.

Magenta crosses are planted all over Ciudad Juárez and across Mexico, many with names of missing and murdered girls and women written on them. (La Verdad: Periodismo de Investigación photo by Rey R. Jauregui, 2019)

As a graduate student in the performance studies program at UC Berkeley, Espinoza began to recognize other forms of resistance that she had been practicing in everyday rituals — rituals like cooking, singing, dancing and sewing — that she performed with her family in her childhood home, an old lime green house affectionately known as “La Casa Verde.”

“By performing rituals and creating altars inside La Casa Verde — by turning La Casa Verde into an altar itself — we are coming together in resistance inside the home as a way to join the resistance and protest throughout the city,” said Espinoza.

It’s also a way, she said, for them to begin to collectively heal from family tragedies that happened decades before — tragedies that no one ever talked about, no matter how many times she asked.

Performance as social justice

When Espinoza first told her master’s thesis adviser, Angela Marino, about her interest in research and writing about La Casa Verde as a form of resistance to the feminicides in Ciudad Juárez, Marino told her to run with it.

“For Laila, her performance practice is another form of research,” said Marino, a professor in the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at Berkeley. “It’s a living context that she’s in and that context is still dynamically being made. She’s finding and filling in the blanks that, oftentimes, the official narrative leaves out.”

Marino runs the Teatro Project on campus — a group of students who produce theater and performances on stage and in the streets as a forum for building communal power among Latinx, Black and Indigenous communities in the U.S.

She said that performance is unique in its ability to bring people — both performers and the audience — together in collaboration, creating a space that challenges how people think and feel.

“When people come up with ideas, and they’re creative together, they’re asking themselves, ‘What am I willing to to put into an idea that will be shown? What needs to be said when there is so much talk, and how can we express that in ways that will open a deeper place of understanding and inquiry?’ There’s a commitment it takes. It takes courage — it really takes courage. You have to bring your fullest self to it.

“And then, when people are drawn into a story as a witness, there’s an emotional recognition that’s going on at the same time. It’s a feeling-state that people are brought into that can help them open up a bit and see a perspective that’s different from their own. They’re able to have enough time to sit with it and think and be with both compassion and complexity. And that’s a place of change.”

It’s this space of connection and openness that Espinoza hopes her family will begin to create in their performances of everyday rituals inside of La Casa Verde.

“We perform healing practices of making,” said Espinoza. “We use our bodies. We don’t talk about it much because talking is … I consider it to be a relatively aggressive way of communicating traumatic experiences. Talking should come later, in my belief, and it’s also backed up by my research on indigenous ceremonies of healing. There’s not much talking going on — mostly, just doing things together. When we plant a garden, we are healing ourselves and the earth at the same time.”

For Espinoza, trauma is a familiar feeling — something she has experienced since she was a young child, when one day, her mother was gone.

‘Girls look prettier when they’re quiet’

Espinoza never knew why her mother disappeared — if she left on her own, or if it was out of her control. Growing up, she’d ask about her mother all the time, but never got an answer.

“No one talked about why my mother disappeared. No one wanted to tell me what happened — why she was just there one day, and the next day, she was not.

“So much of our culture is that things are just the way they are — that it’s just the way life is. So, I was usually shut down when I asked questions. We have a common saying: Girls look prettier when they’re quiet.”

So, Espinoza turned to her auntie, Maria Del Socorro, for answers. It was her auntie who first told her about the murders in Juárez. “She was sitting at the kitchen table in her house, which was a few houses down from La Casa Verde in the same colonia,” said Espinoza. “And she called us over — me and all of my cousins — and she said, ‘There’s something you need to know.’”

She read them an article in the city’s newspaper, El Diario de Juárez, and didn’t spare the gruesome details. “She read us everything, because she knew that we had to know the truth,” said Espinoza. “After she read the first article to us, she said, ‘This is real. This is happening. And from this day on, none of you are allowed to go outside of your houses by yourself.’”

The victims were young — often teenagers — and had dark skin and long, dark hair. Many of them worked in foreign-owned factories known as maquiladoras, the majority of which are owned by U.S. companies, and were last seen waiting at a bus stop or leaving a factory. Corpses were found, often several at a time, dumped like garbage — in the desert, in fields and in vacant lots. Many of the bodies showed signs of rape, torture and mutiliation.

“After I learned about the feminicides, my entire focus shifted to my mother,” said Espinoza. “I became so worried about her. I thought, ‘Where is she? What is happening to her? What if they get to her? What if she is one of them? When am I going to get the bad news?’”

Years later, after Espinoza had graduated from high school in the U.S., she got tragic news from Juárez: Her auntie, Maria Del Socorro — the person who always told her the truth — had committed suicide. “I didn’t know what to do,” said Espinoza. “No one would talk about it. I loved her so much. I still do.”

So, Espinoza did the only thing she knew: She dove deeper into her art and began to work through her pain by creating and making and performing.

Healing in collective resistance

Today, La Casa Verde still stands in Ciudad Juárez — a simple, humble house on a border that has become militarized in a city overrun with drug cartels, where girls and women continue to be abducted and murdered with impunity. The house, with its lime green paint peeling in the hot sun, sits stoically in the middle of what has become one of the most dangerous places in the world.

Through actual and intentional performative and creative practices in the house, said Espinoza, La Casa Verde has become a “disobedient object,” an everyday object that has been given a new purpose — tools of protest used in social movements all over the world.

“Objects have anima,” said Espinoza. “We have relationships with objects. The house has a spirit. The walls are like the skin of the body, and the structure is like the bonds of the body. The house experiences and witnesses everything — trauma, violence, healing — and it’s all absorbed into the walls of the house and in the ground underneath. Therefore, we can use the house as an object of healing, turning it into a type of temple.”

Although Espinoza has yet to find out what happened to her mother, she does know that her mother was a victim of gender-based violence in the home. And when Espinoza sees the magenta crosses throughout Juárez, she thinks of her mother and her auntie — how, even if she might never have answers, it doesn’t stop her from telling her truth and sharing it with others.

As a teenager, Espinoza made a beautiful doll for her auntie as a gift. Years later, Espinoza realized that the doll didn’t look anything like her auntie; it looked exactly like her mother.

“The process of making the doll was part of my healing,” said Espinoza. “My nieces ask me about the doll — about what she represents — and I tell them about my auntie and my mother. I’m the only one who talks about it. I have to do it in secret, because their moms get mad at me when I do, because they think it’s too much for them. But I feel like they need to know. The doll opens up the door to talk about something that no one wants to talk about.”

One of many murals in Ciudad Juárez of missing and murdered women and girls. (Photo courtesy of Laila Espinoza)

When Espinoza, now 40, crosses the border today, she has a mixture of feelings, she said. She feels proud that she and her people remain resilient, no matter how hard the U.S. government tries to demonize them and stop them from crossing the border — something that’s become even harder with tighter restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We love our families so much that we are willing to put our lives at risk every time we cross the border,” she said. “Even when you do have papers, you never know when something is going to go down. There are militarized police everywhere, and they are very reactionary.”

She also has a heavy heart when she sees how dehumanizing the border has become for so many people over the years, especially since President Trump took office in 2016.

“Two years ago when I crossed, I saw all the campsites at the border in Juárez, where asylum seekers from all over — Central and South America, the Caribbean — were living in tents. Children were living in, not even tents, but tarps and black plastic garbage bags cut flat, stretched and attached to the barbed wire fences that line the perimeter surrounding the spaces between the international bridges.”

She said the worst part has been hearing how members of her own family echo the negative stereotypes that the media repeats about asylum seekers.

“I see how the media has successfully pitted members of the Latin American community against one another, when we are all clearly just trying to survive in a part of a continent that has been sectioned off, exploited and outright depleted for and of its natural and human resources by the countries of the North who consider themselves superior.”

Now, Espinoza is using her experiences living at the border to help others find their own path to self-understanding, and learn that they deserve to heal from trauma.

Teaching others how to heal through art

From her home in El Paso, Texas, where she lives with her 9-year-old son, Nyanga, Espinoza recently started teaching art workshops online — something she loves to do. She hopes, through her art-making and in her workshops, that people will learn that healing is something we all have the power to create for ourselves.

“I want people to know that we have the power to heal from trauma,” she said. “It’s not something to be ashamed of. Mental illness, such as PTSD, which is so common … I want to be able to talk about it openly.

“I also want to be able to talk about our bodies — how we feel about our bodies, how we move in the street with our bodies, how we hide our bodies. I want to be able to talk about the consequences of the feminicides to women who are alive. We also suffer the impact. We also suffer in how we experience ourselves every single day in our bodies, in public.”

On International Women’s Day this year, tens of thousands of mothers, families and allies filled the streets of Mexico City in a massive march to protest gender-based violence and inequality. Today, at least 10 women are murdered in Mexico every day, with 90% of the killings going unsolved, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world for girls and women.

Although her family isn’t ready to join the protestors, said Espinoza, she hopes that, someday, they’ll be ready to talk about their collective trauma — what they’ve lived through and continue to live through in a city they love. And, maybe, La Casa Verde, with its all-knowing walls, will help them find their way, one day sending them out into the streets to join in protest.

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