Testimony at the recent Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry hearings in Iqaluit showed there is a still a lot of work needed to heal the wounds of colonial violence, if it’s even possible in light of the fact such violence persists.
The lingering memories of colonial violence include the forcible removal of children and adults to residential schools and tuberculosis sanatoriums, and the slaughter of sled dogs at the hands of RCMP officers. Governments continue to offer apologies for these transgressions, with money being the supposed fix.
For Inuit and other Indigenous women in Canada, colonial violence continues to manifests itself physically and institutionally.
The 20th century exploitation of the eastern Arctic for national sovereignty and for its natural resources saw Inuit forced into communities, their culture and language besieged, and southern ways institutionalized. As a result, many Inuit struggle with issues related to self-identity, cultural wellbeing, and language loss, and the southern institutions designed to help are insufficient to provide safety.
The long tail of colonialism means many of the physical risks are now found at home. The pain spreads in families, and this will take generations to heal.
Racism against Inuit continues to be a real force within Nunavut, where we have heard firsthand in the Court of Justice the accounts of Inuit women and children who have fallen victim to abusers and pedophiles who come from the south looking for easy targets. Other media have shown this to be the case in Nunavik, as well.
We can’t forget the Ottawa police sergeant who made racist comments online in the wake of Cape Dorset artist Annie Pootoogook’s death, or the acquittal of the man accused in the Tina Fontaine murder case in Manitoba. Both give hints of the racism Indigenous women face in the justice system.
Public infrastructure is another risk. B.C. recently enacted a recommendation by missing women inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal to bring public transit to the famed Highway of Tears – the northern B.C. highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert where dozens of Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or gone missing since 1969. But the public transit has created competition for the Greyhound bus service, which is pulling out of northern B.C. on Oct. 31. Where public transit is insufficient, some women trying to travel along the route will resort to hitchhiking, an activity that has led to the deaths and disappearances of so many Indigenous women.
The federal government has provided a limited timeline and limited funds to the inquiry, meaning the potential for solutions and healing will be limited. Former commissioner Marilyn Poitras told Maclean’s magazine that the inquiry’s existence is the victory, and that the final report will not stop Indigenous women from “being trafficked or pimped out … (or) murdered.”
To us, the real victory will be that women’s voices and concerns are truly heard – and their accounts believed. In the modern era, we fear that victory will be hard fought and slow to come.