Executive Director, Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA)
The serial murders of Indigenous women in Winnipeg are a national tragedy and another example of how multiple systems continue to fail in keeping Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people safe.
Most people in their lifetime may never encounter a person who has been directly impacted by someone they know being murdered or who has been missing for years. Now imagine walking into a room where every person you know has lost someone to violence or is waiting to hear information on someone who has still not been located. Then, imagine an entire community knows of someone who is missing or who has been murdered.
This is my reality. This is the reality of Indigenous women who look for their missing and murdered Indigenous mothers, aunties, daughters, and sisters. This is a daily reality across this country.
As Canada learns about the murders of four Indigenous women in Winnipeg, there have been questions regarding whether the murders were race-based. How, after what the country has witnessed through the MMIWG National Inquiry, or even more recently through the uncovering of mass graves at Residential Schools, is this still the question?
But let’s take race out of what has happened in Winnipeg. What if we didn’t know who the four women were, just that they were murdered by a potential serial killer. Would we not be searching for them? Would we not be trying to ascertain if more women were victims of this man? Would we not be outraged?
And would that outrage not be so vast that resources would be deployed immediately to search the location, even a garbage dump, if police believed that that was where their bodies were hidden? Which family or community would accept that their loved ones’ bodies will forever remain in a garage dump?
When we remove the women’s racial identity, these questions seem unthinkable. No one would accept being told their sister, daughter, mother will just remain buried in a heap of garbage.
But we are not seeing outrage by the entire community in Winnipeg. We are not witnessing protests in the thousands. We are not hearing of resources being provided to bring these women home to their families. So how can we believe that it is not because they are Indigenous?
We cannot ignore the fact that Indigenous women are seven times more likely to be homicide victims than non-Indigenous women.
We must recognize that violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada is systemic and very often perpetuated by systems intended to serve and protect them. This must stop. We need to begin building new communities where Indigenous women are safe, through actions taken at individual, family, community, and systemic levels.
As the Executive Director of the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), the oldest and largest Indigenous women’s agency in Canada, our focus is to empower and support all Indigenous women. Indigenous women know what they need to be safe. Ending violence against them and their families, and ensuring equal access to justice, education, health services, environmental stewardship, and economic development, sit at the cornerstone of what we do.
It is time for Canadians to change the story of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit people. The critical recommendations in ONWA’s report Reconciliation with Indigenous Women: Changing the Story of MMIWG (2020) must be integrated into the National Action Plan, along with every plan in each province and territory, and implemented without further delays.
As Canadians, are we not ashamed for the rest of the world to witness how we treat the First Peoples of our country? That is the only question we should all be asking, so that we don’t ever have to ask the question of ‘how many more’ ever again.
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