Today, February 14th, is the global day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous women.
In Canada, first nations women are seven times more likely to be murdered than other women. They are three and a half times more likely to be victims of violence than non-native women.
There is no way to know exactly how many first nations and aboriginal women have been murdered, or have gone missing in Canada and the USA, because no reliable database exists. Sisters in Spirit, a research initiative whose funding was cut by the Harper government in 2010, counted over 600 cases of missing and murdered first nations women. Another database has numbers as high as 824 murdered and missing first nations women, just from 1980 to 2013.
Between 2000 and 2008, 153 cases of murder were identified in the Native Women Association of Canada’s Sisters In Spirit database. First nations women make up only 3% of the total female population in Canada, but 10% of the female homicides in Canada in the 2000 to 2008 period. An additional 115 women in the database are still missing.
To quote NWAC: “The overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in Canada as victims of violence must be understood in the context of a colonial strategy that sought to dehumanize Aboriginal women.” The violence that is perpetuated against Native American, Alaska Native and First Nations women is rooted in colonial violence and racism.
In the United States, on some reservations, the murder rate for Native women is ten times the national average. Some 88% of these types of crimes are committed by non-Indians.
Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organizations like Amnesty International have condemned the United States and Canada for their inaction with regards to the violence against indigenous women.
For decades, Indigenous women in Canada have held marches, vigils and rallies on February 14th to honor the Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past thirty years. The vigil was started over 20 years ago in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Mainstream feminist organizations have ignored the significance of the February 14th date in planning One Billion Rising, and have dismissed or belittled indigenous activists like Lauren Chief Elk, who have protested the coopting of the February 14th date.
Here are important links and resources:
Murder of Indigenous Women and Community Activism:
Youtube movie on the Downtown East Side, the roots of the Memorial March, violence against indigenous women and the activism of women in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver.
The Save Wįyąbi Mapping Project, which shows unsolved and solved murders of indigenous women in the United States and Canada.
Crucial acts about the missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada.
The Native American Women of Canada’s report on missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada: “What Their Stories Tell Us: Research Findings from the Sisters In Spirit Initiative.”
Indigenous people in Canada creating their own database of the missing and murdered, in part because the government will not do it.
The Women’s Memorial March in the Downtown East Side: ” “Why is it such an uphill battle to get justice for missing and murdered women and their families and communities? We are calling for a national and international public inquiry led by family and community members. We need political will at all levels of government to address these tragedies as well as ongoing gendered violence, poverty, and racism.”
Government collusion with violence against indigenous women.
Individuals on why they participate in the Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women:
Why I March: Marlene George “When I realized how the march came about I was horrified that such violence could be thrust upon another human being to that degree and was immediately taken by the importance of this work.”
Sandra Delarond: “Lorna Lynn Blacksmith and her family are from Cross Lake. It just rattled my being to know that such a young woman from my home had dissappeared from the streets of Winnipeg. The media portrayed her as a sex trade worker – just another Aboriginal woman who was responsible for her own misfortune. Her community remembered her as a dedicated army cadet, strong and carefree young woman with dreams.”
Danielle Boudreau: “February 14, 2006 the First Annual Memorial March for All the Missing and Murdered Women of Edmonton was started […] Two weeks later, on February 26, 2006, my younger sister was found murdered in her home, stabbed to death by her friend over a cell phone and a guy. Now the March had a new meaning to me.”
Raven Bowen: “She was calling out in bewilderment and anger to her society, a society where patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism unite in callous and dangerous ways. The blood of poor women, Indigenous women, and women of colour mark our streets such that we cannot march but a few steps without stopping. ”
Maya Rolbin-Ghanie: “I want to walk down the street alone at night with no other distraction than the curve of the moon and the wind at my back and the shifting of the leaves. It’s unacceptable, all the blood and pain of daughters still pooling and seeping into the ground all around us.”
Coopting of the Memorial March by Eve Ensler and One Billion Rising:
Lauren Chief Elk’s Open Letter to Eve Ensler
There is No “We”: V-Day, Indigenous Women and the Myth of Shared Gender Oppression: “The actions made by V-Day on February 14, 2013 bulldozed and railroaded existing grassroots organizing by Indigenous women, and then attempted to silence Indigenous women for dissenting. This was not the first time that V-Day and Ensler were condemned by Indigenous women, and these actions are unfortunately emblematic of mainstream feminism and its anti-violence movement.”
Valentine’s Day and V-Day: “February 14th is an iconic day for Indigenous women in Canada, with marches, vigils, and rallies being held for decades to honor the over 600 Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing on Turtle Island, most of them over the last 30 years. It is an opportunity for us to come together to grieve the loss of many women, to remember the women who are still missing, and to dedicate ourselves to the continued struggle for justice. Despite the fact that women continue to go missing or are murdered, there is minimal to no action by the state of Canada to address these tragedies or the systemic nature of gendered violence, poverty, racism, or colonialism.”
It would be near impossible to name all the indigenous women in the United States and Canada who have been murdered, or are missing, but, in an effort to avoid disappearing these women further and turning them into a mass of nameless faces, here is a small list of some of the women who have recently been murdered or gone missing in Canada and the United States.
Cheyenne Fox, 20 years old. Died in April 2013 in Toronto under suspicious circumstances. Police refused to investigate.
Bella Laboucan-McLean, 25, died under suspicious circumstances in on July 20th, 2013 in Toronto.
Tricia Boisvert, 36. Lived in Montreal. Disappeared on January 17th, 2014, found dead in Ottawa. Homicide.
Courtney Johnstone, 26. Grande Prairie resident, reported missing to the RCMP on Jan. 30, 2014. Police have revealed that her disappearance was a homicide.
Hanna Harris, from Montana. 21 years old, went missing July 4th 2013. Found dead July 8th 2013. Family believes her death was a homicide.
Summer Dawn Bear, 15 years old. Missing since January 17th 2014 from her Saskatoon residence
Jenilee Rose Ballyntyne, 22. Murdered in Winnipeg around January 24th, 2013.
Kelsey Kahpeechoose, teenager. Missing from the City of Prince Albert since June 16th, 2014.
“We are here to honour and remember the women, and we are here because we are failing to protect women from poverty and systemic exploitation, abuse and violence. We are here in sorrow and in anger because the violence continues each and every day and the list of missing and murdered women gets longer every year” Marlene George
Today, I stand in solidarity with the people marching to honor the missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada and the United States.
I acknowledge that this post was written on the traditional territory of the Lenape people.