All Lives Institute
All Lives Institute

Genocide of Indigenous Women (HIIN=18)


The widescale murder of Canadian indigenous women is to be seen against both the destruction of colonialism and the mindset instilled in the colonisers. The crimes are not well reported. With their tribes kept sundered apart, the Indians of Canada are now referred to either by what are called their 'cultural areas' or by their 'language families'. They must live on reservations in 'First Nations Bands' - communities subject to the Indian Act, as small as a couple of hundred people. There are three aboriginal peoples recognised:
  1. Arctic cultural area - (Eskimo-Aleut languages - Innu and eg TUicho and Gwich'in spoken in the Northwest Territories, northern Québec, Labrador, Greenland and far eastern Russia and Inuktut, spoken in Nunavut);
  2. Subarctic culture area - (Indian Na-Dene languages (Athapaskan, Eyak, Tlingit, and Haida) and Algic or Algonquian languages (eg Ojibway also spelled Otchipwe);
    • Eastern Woodlands (Northeast) cultural area - (Algic and Iroquoian Indian languages);
    • Plains cultural area - (Siouan-Catawban Indian languages);
    • Northwest Plateau cultural area - (Salishan Indian languages);
    • Northwest Coast cultural area - (Haida, Tsimshianic and Wakashan Indian languages); and
  3. Western parts generally - Michif, the hybridised language of the Métis
c4.9% of the total population is aboriginal. In the 2011 census, less than 1% of Canadians (213,485) reported an indigenous language as their mother tongue. 132,920 reported an indigenous language as their home language. In Canada, no Indigenous languages are considered to be safe. There may be enough speakers of Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibway for these languages to survive (if they organise for this). In counting a seemingly hopeless plurality of languages, authorities raise academic concerns by not recognising how dialects establish order on the linguistic map.

Prior to colonization, Indian multilingualism was common. Now, trapped on small reservations, people must select just one ancestral language, to counter colonial hegemony - a matter which calls Irish-speaking people to mind. Approximately 63% of Inuit can converse in Inuktut. A few Métis, not yet anglicised, incorporate the Cree and Na-Dene languages in hybridised speech called Michif. As the third aboriginal grouping, the polyethnic Métis people of Canada (and the US), are descendants of First Nations women and European fur traders.

The Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee - 'people of the long house' (buildings also used by Celts) - include the Mohawk and Oneida and the Cayuga and Seneca. The Iroquois were the most important tribe in North American history. Again, with some comparisons with the Celts, they had matrilineal societies - women owned property and determined kinship. Individual tribes were divided into turtle, bear, and wolf clans - each headed by a clan mother.

Missing/murdered Native Women

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) 2014 report 'Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview' found that more than 1,000 indigenous women were murdered over thirty years. From 2001 to 2015, the homicide rate for indigenous women in Canada was almost six times as high as that for non-Indigenous women, representing 4.82 per 100,000 population Vs 0.82.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (June 2, 2015) concluded that Canada had pursued a policy of 'cultural genocide'' against the aboriginal population. For instance, thousands of indigenous children were forcibly sent to residential, Government-controlled schools. Many were abused and many more subjected to forced sterilisation. In the early 1900s, eg, Canadian doctors subjected indigenous children to medical experiments. This included exposing healthy children to ones who had been infected with tuberculosis.

The Canadian Government does not collect data on the ethnicity of missing persons. A database compiled by independent researcher Maryanne Pearce documents 4,035 cases of missing and murdered women and girls, nearly 25% of whom involve aboriginal women. Aboriginal women make up just 2% of the population. The majority of cases took place between 1990 and 2013. The conditions for the pervasive disinterest in missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and in the extreme violence, death and suicide they suffered, had long been established.

Begun in late 2015, the $92m National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) presented its Report to the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments in Gatineau, Québec, on June 3, 2019. The Inquiry found that indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of other demographic groups. The text described the disappearances and killings of indigenous women and girls as a 'Canadian genocide', defined as 'the sum of the social practices, assumptions and actions detailed within this Report' (so deleting specific responsibilities).

The Report, the third in five years, took testimony from more than 1,500 families of victims and survivors. They said women and girls were seen by the police and the criminal justice system 'through a lens of pervasive racist and sexist stereotypes'. The violence against them amounted 'to a race-based genocide of First Nations, Inuit and Métis'. Genocide had been empowered by colonial structures (the indecent purloining of land would be an example). PM Justin Trudeau gave his word to 'conduct a thorough review of this Report' and formulate a 'National Action Plan' to address the violence, 'with indigenous partners, to determine next steps'.

Indigenous Canadian education and housing still remain in crisis. In some 15% of First Nation Bands, tap water must be boiled. Contrasting with the reality of the situation, the Government of Canada welcomed the release of the final 1,200-page report - and its 231 'calls for justice' to the Government, Police and wider Canadian public. Commitments were given i) to ending the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and ii) to help prevent violence against indigenous women, girls, LGBTQ and Two-Spirit People (a recent English term for native Americans who have 'masculine and a feminine spirits'). The many recommendations addressed endemic levels of violence directed at indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.

The Terms of Reference of the National Inquiry covered the plight of indigenous women and girls. Departing from the recommendations, by promising various supports both for them and for most sexual minorities, the grave matter of genocide was effectively deleted. Any practical actions which could be taken would ipso facto have to lack focus. Furthermore, discrimination against certain sexual minorities, not referred to, may have been deliberate or just been overseen in the obvious slight-of-hand.

In the event, the Canadian Government took limited action, as many Indian elders had feared:
  • $21.3m was provided to bolster health supports provided by the inquiry;
  • the periods for Family Information Liaison Units and funding for community-based organizations, were extended, until March 2020;
  • a fund was established to honour the lives and legacies of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, LGBTQ and Two-spirit People (why exclude the full LGBTTQQIAAP range?);
  • funding a review of police policies and practices relating to the indigenous peoples; and
  • $9.6m, to be invested over 5 years, to support the establishment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's new National Office of Investigative Standards and Practices (NOISP), eg to investigate MMIWG cases (ie the basic purpose of the Inquiry).
[The term 'two-spirit' was adopted, in 1990, at an international indigenous lesbian and gay gathering. Many Native American religions had looked to Two-spirit People as leaders. The native peoples of Siberia and Central and Southeast Asia have comparable traditions. Over 20,000 years ago, Native Americans migrated from Siberia across the Bering Strait. Androgyny, ancient among humankind, may be considered (in evolutionary terms) as useful for coping with certain stresses.]

May 5th, Red Dress Day in Canada (which commemorates the blood of murdered indigenous women), draws attention to MMIWG. On the first Red Dress Day since the final 2019 National Inquiry report, some indigenous people took the opportunity to restate the Inquiry's grim findings; that indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to go missing or be murdered than other groups of women. Lorraine Whitman, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), said she was disappointed with the Government's response"... I haven't seen much come of the Inquiry: very little action has been taken since the report was handed to the PM, in Gatineau, Québec". For the five major political parties, indigenous issues are not on the political radar. Many MMIWG families had been sceptical that the police would reform.

After the Inquiry's Report was released, current RCMP Commissioner, Brenda Lucki, promised a review its findings and recommendations. The Report was an unequivocal reckoning of Canada's historical treatment of indigenous women and girls - a challenge to all Canadians to confront the violence (which still continues). There are disproportionately high rates of depression, PTSD, suicide and substance abuse amongst Native people, which result from the high rates of violence which their communities experience. The Inquiry recommended Canada's Criminal Code to take violence against indigenous women as an aggravating factor at sentencing and, where there was "a pattern of intimate partner violence and abuse" against a deceased, to consider first-degree murder.

For three years, the Inquiry studied systemic violence against MMIWG. White nationalists, on social media, sought to undermine the Inquiry's finding that the treatment of indigenous people was genocide. Claims were made that indigenous men had killed 70% of those murdered. The Report concluded, however, that 'the 70% was not factually based'. [It was first invented in 2015 by the then-Indigenous Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.]

Robert Henry, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary, who studies indigenous justice issues, said the 70% figure allowed those who believe it, to blame indigenous men rather than examining their own roles in today's colonialism. He said: "We need the broader Canadian society to... understand that we're all complicit in this." For example, the Inquiry had recommended the RCMP hire more Inuit officers in the far North: fewer than 10 Inuit were then in the service.

The national Inquiry heard several stories about women and girls who had experienced human trafficking, sexual exploitation and violence. Many others spoke about their mothers, sisters and daughters, who were exploited and murdered. RCMP statistics from 2016 show that while Indigenous women represented only 4% of the Canadian population, they comprised nearly 50% of the victims of human trafficking. Of those, nearly 25% were under the age of 18.

Worthy as are the calls for the full force of the law to be used to stop domestic abuse, the Inquiry is silent on the absence of police investigation into what happened to the thousands of missing women and girls or where they bodies might lie. Creating more bureaucracy (NOISP) does not point a way forward. A tacit assumption can be inferred that, officially, indigenous men have, for some (unexplained) reason, turned to killing their wives and daughters (and 2SLGBTTQQIAAP persons).

Various studies certainly did identify dysfunction in families, causing later experiences of female sexual exploitation. Colonization in Canada did and continues to take the form of systematic discrimination, embodied in harmful policies and legislation which have greatly damaged aboriginal societies. A study by the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) recorded that 44.4% of trafficked women had been forced or paid to have sex with policemen. With unarguable common sense, Dr Glenna Stumblingbear-Riddle, puts on the record for indigenous people that: "the Cheyenne have long insisted, no people is broken until the heart of its women is on the ground. Then the people are broken. Then will they die".

Marion Buller, the Chief Commissioner of the MMIWG inquiry, saught the introduction of an annual living income for all Canadians, paid leave and disability benefits for indigenous victims of crime, reforms to policing and the justice system and, most importantly, official language status for indigenous languages. To those inimical to native Canadians, she said: "To them I say, we as a nation cannot afford not to rebuild. Otherwise, we all knowingly enable the continuation of genocide in our own country." Michéle Audette, another of the Commissioners, and a former president of the Québec Native Women's Association, affirmed that the RCMP needed reforms.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett reacted to the Inquiry report, noting the Government had already committed to major reforms for indigenous peoples, including new cash injections for on-reservation housing, a plan to end boil-water advisories, a fundamental overhaul of the child and family services régime, legislation for an indigenous languages strategy and a push to foster more self-government.

The United Nations Human Rights Office (June 16, 2019) urged the Federal Government to probe the national Inquiry's conclusion that violence against Indigenous women and girls amounted to genocide. After the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, arrived in Ottawa, the PM finally accepted that the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls was 'genocide'. However, the Federal Government later referred to the term in the past tense.

The UN is encouraging Canada effectively to implement the Inquiry's recommendations, including the development of a national action plan to ensure equitable access to jobs, housing, education, safety and health care. The UN Human Rights Office is ready to offer technical assistance to Canada. The UN is not the first international body to urge Canada to investigate the claim of genocide against indigenous peoples. The Organization of American States is awaiting a response from the federal government to launch an investigation.

'Bay p'ay tday, bay p'ay tday' are Kiowa words which mean 'nil desperandum'. This is therefore a thought which has shone through the millennia and right across the globe.