EDITORIAL: Strong words from inquiry

A painful read, a painful message – but Canadians should ask if not 'genocide' then what?

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Another major and devastating report was brought to national attention last week following the nearly three-year, cross-country inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

A beaded heart tapestry was the backdrop as dozens of loved ones and survivors of violence share their stories during hearings in Yellowknife last year by the Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. The final report, released last week, calls the murders and disappearances a “Canadian genocide.” NNSL photo

The report’s 231 recommendations are based on feedback from more than 1,500 family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. It presents yet another challenge to Canadian society, one that calls upon all citizens to reflect on this woefully marginalized element of our population and, as a country, to channel a path toward healing and redemption.

For Indigenous Northerners especially, many of the findings and the damage that has been done to women, girls, Inuit, Metis, First Nations and 2SLGBTQQIA people strikes at the heart of their communities and represents yet another reminder that the socio-economic damage that we see has come part in parcel with the Canadian colonial project.

Much of last week’s discussion among southern media centred around the commission report’s purposely strong language, including its insistence that the the treatment of Indigenous women in our society has been nothing less than a Canadian “genocide.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, though reluctantly, came to the admitted position that the term fit the findings and the Government of Canada accepted the label.

For many non-Indigenous Canadians this has been hard to swallow. It is a strong term, and some Canadians might think it unfair when compared to, say, the Holocaust or the ethnic cleansing in faraway places such as East Timor. But in the clear light of day one would be blind to dismiss the deliberate destruction of Indigenous life and culture in Canada and how this continues to manifest itself today.

How else to explain statistics showing a homicide rate of 4.45 per 100,000 for Indigenous women compared to 0.9 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous women or how Indigenous women make up 16 per cent of homicide cases even though they only represent 4.3 per cent of Canadian female population. That many of these deaths are perpetuated by Indigenous offenders is irrelevant.

These are the fruits of the Canadian colonial project.

Much like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report of 2015, where we accepted the label of “cultural genocide” in the federal government’s handling of residential school survivors, we accept the “genocide” term as defined within the Reclaiming Power and Place document.

Canadians ought to acknowledge how Indigenous communities have been affected by colonialism and how women and girls have taken the brunt of the abuse. In the case of the MMIWG, we support the report’s emphasis on “moral obligation” among Canadians to change their ways and recognize the vulnerable situation that Inuit, Metis, First Nations, women and girls and 2SLBGTQQIA people have been in, and are in, statistically. Although an emotional topic to consider, we encourage citizens to at least read the report and take the time to digest the information in it.

Many may still contend the conclusions are misguided and the language of the report too strong. There is certainly room for skepticism of the recommendation to consider violence against Indigenous women and girls as an aggravating factor in court proceedings – if that will mean a disproportionate number of Indigenous male and female offenders will face tougher sentences.

But we encourage readers to focus on what is important. First, as an open society and democracy, the Government of Canada is continuing to do what it should be doing — examining its own behaviours and practices in a thorough manner, acknowledging those who have been involved in the tragedies, and implementing the recommendations for reform that have been made. Second, as citizens it ought to be our duty to be informed and engaged, and to hold the government to account to ensure progress is made.

The process of investigating the national tragedy of murdered and missing Indigenous women has been a painful one, especially for those who have shared their stories.

We thank them for their bravery in bringing these traumatic experiences to light. The hard work now begins to ensure conditions improve in our society.

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