Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women Inquiry – Debate Continued

Speeches

Inquiry: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women Senator Jane Cordy June 18th, 2013

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Lovelace Nicholas, calling the attention of the Senate to the continuing tragedy of missing and murdered Aboriginal Women.

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I rise this evening to speak to a critical issue, that of murdered and missing Aboriginal women. I want to thank Senator Lovelace Nicholas for starting this very important inquiry in the Senate.

Honourable senators, the statistics are staggering. We know that over the last decade indigenous women and girls represented approximately 10 per cent of all female homicides in Canada while only making up 3 per cent of the population. Furthermore, 580 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women have been documented by the Native Women's Association of Canada, mostly within the last three decades, and we suspect this number is actually much higher. Of these cases, 67 per cent are known to be murders; 20 per cent are missing women and girls; 4 per cent are cases of suspicious deaths; and 9 per cent represent cases where the nature is unknown.

Honourable senators, this is nothing less than a crisis. Were these statistics applied to non-native women, the number of cases would have reached approximately 20,000 by now. It is clear that we need to look more closely at current cases and to establish a national strategy in order to lower these statistics significantly.

Amnesty International, which along with the UN has been critical of Canada as it relates to this issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, has laid out a pattern in our country of why we continue to be a breeding ground for this particular problem. They suggest that racist and sexist stereotypes, which deny indigenous women their dignity and worth, encourage some men to think that they can get away with these acts of hatred. They also put the problem down to decades of government policy that has impoverished and broken up indigenous families, leaving women and girls extremely vulnerable. Finally, many police forces have failed to institute the proper training and investigative protocols and mechanisms for accountability in order to eliminate bias in how they respond to the needs of Aboriginal women and their families.

In February of this year, the online group entitled Anonymous released a map of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in North America. This map is along the same lines of Harassmap, a crowd-sourced map that tracks sexual harassment in Egypt.

Tim Groves, a Toronto-based freelance reporter and researcher, notes:

While this map isn't official, and people need to be critical of any information — and question its source — crowd- sourcing can help fill in formal information gaps.

Groves also points to this as a means for people to be creative and use technology to add to the conversation. It is a means to not sit idly by and wait for the government to take action.

Upon examination of the map it is clear we are dealing with a serious issue here in Canada based on the sheer number of cases that show up. This map acts as a visual that will hopefully bring the issue to light and make Canadians aware of its severity and encourage a move towards truth and justice. We have to not only bring the issue to light but, more importantly, we have to work with and listen to the Aboriginal community.

Honourable senators, a national action plan would ensure indigenous women effective, unbiased justice, continued improvement in public awareness, and also accountability, with consistent collection and publication of statistics relating to this matter. It would also encourage adequate funding to organizations that can provide culturally appropriate counselling to Aboriginal women and girls in their own communities. Furthermore, it would examine ways to address root causes by closing the economic gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people and eliminate any inequality of services available.

Honourable senators, last fall I had the pleasure of visiting Thunderbird House in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This centre is a community gathering spot that aims to enhance and share Aboriginal beliefs, values, customs and practices.

I was able to tour the facility and speak to people there in order to gain an understanding of the value and benefit they bring to their community. I spoke with one woman, Shannon Buck, who was eager to share the stories and lives of the women she has encountered as a coordinator of the Red Road to Healing program at the West Central Women's Resource Centre.

Shannon Buck is one of the most courageous women I have ever met. Ms. Buck has written a speech compiled from words of community members who attended a healing circle on October 18 last year. She hoped to deliver the speech herself at a community meeting where the subject was missing and murdered Aboriginal women. However, when she got to the meeting with her speaking notes, which reflected the words and feelings of her community, she was told that she could not speak.

Honourable senators, this is a major part of the problem. The coordinator of the Red Road to Healing program, a woman whose words reflected what she heard from the women in her community, was not given a voice at the meeting. She asked if I would give voice to the words she was not allowed to speak. I am proud and privileged to share Shannon's words with you now in the Senate of Canada. She describes them as the heartfelt cry of a people to be acknowledged as valuable members of Canadian society and the voice of their frustration and pain over the epidemic of violence against their lifegivers.

Here are Shannon's words:

My name is Wabbunnong Noodin Ikwe.

I am here to represent my people.

My sisters.

My nieces.

My daughters.

My granddaughters.

Those who have gone on before me. Those who walk the earth with me. Those who will come after me. I am here to tell you:

That it is the slap in the face of the families of our missing and murdered girls and women that they have no place at the table with those who would make decisions about what is "best for them."

There is no one who knows more about this issue and reality than those that are forced to live it every day.

Yet, you shut your ears to the cries of the people; because we do not have the right letters behind our names, because we are not wealthy enough, not academic enough, not assimilated enough to be welcome behind the doors you have chosen to close on us.

There is no one listening to the dedicated men and women that live and work every day in communities around this country. Those whose work does not end at 5:00. Those who sit with the people in their pain and give of their own time and resources without recognition or compensation. The grassroots and frontline workers.

There is no one listening to the heartbreak of mothers and children as another of our women vanishes from our lives.

We know the issues that we courageously face day in and day out.

You have done a multitude of "studies" on us, only to hear the same conclusion over and over again.

You have held meetings and discussions about what to do with us...the ugly stain of truth on the great Canadian tapestry of deceit, denial and decimation.

What happened to the recommendations that came out of Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples? Out of the National Aboriginal Women's Summits I and II?

Why do you refuse to hear us?

Why do you choose to turn a blind eye to the truth?

Why do you feel threatened by those of us that speak it out?

It is not okay to make decisions for us.

It is not okay to hide yourselves away, congratulating each other on another job undone. We will not be placated.

We will no longer be pacified.

We will no longer live within the code of silence that holds our women captive and vulnerable.

We will speak out; we will make demands; we will take action.

We will see our women, our families and communities supported.

We will ensure that those that do the actual work, those that actually live with heartbreak and constant suffering, will have their voices heard any time decisions are to be made about them.

We are not asking your permission to do what needs to be done...we are telling you it will be done...with you or without you.

We are awakening.

EXPECT US.

Expect them, honourable senators. Those are powerful words. What we must now decide is how much can they expect from us. We can no longer allow these atrocities to continue. We must take action.

We must work together towards a solution that comes, first, from acknowledging the problem, which I am happy to see, as Senator Jaffer reported in this chamber, they have done in the other place by striking a special committee responsible for examining the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. I lend my full support to the efforts of Senator Lovelace Nicholas and Senator Dyck, and ask that you do the same, honourable senators.

June is National Aboriginal History Month. What better gift for a more common prosperous future than to acknowledge the vital part Aboriginal people play in Canadian history and to take genuine steps to improve the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women to ensure a vibrant future?

Honourable senators, let us walk together with our Aboriginal community to develop a national plan to eliminate this epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Would the honourable senator be willing to take a question?

Senator Cordy: Yes, but the honourable senator probably knows more about the issue than I do.

Senator Dyck: I thank her for the speech. The question I have is this. Recently, I was talking to one of the women in Saskatchewan. I do not know whether she heard about this when she visited Thunderbird House in Winnipeg. In some cases now, we have people who have actually been charged with murder or kidnapping or what have you, and then we have the children.

Now, we are dealing with children who are being exposed to information about their mothers in the media, which is causing trauma for the children of women who have gone missing or been murdered.

In her visit to Thunderbird House, did that issue come up? If it did not, does she think that is something we ought to start thinking about, because it can be intergenerational just like the residential school issue?

Senator Cordy: That is an excellent question. When I was speaking with Shannon Buck, she had a missing daughter. She spoke about getting a phone call. They had arrested a man who had murdered some Aboriginal women. Apparently, her daughter had been taken by this man, but then was not murdered just because of one of those fortunate things in life.

She did not realize that her daughter had been taken captive by this man, and she got a phone call from the media saying, "What do you think about the fact your daughter got away?" She said that she could not even speak on the phone and she was overwhelmed by how close her daughter had come to being murdered because of the number of women this man had murdered.

She said that this kind of situation was happening, just as the honourable senator said, where people are reading about family members in the media and reliving the trauma over and over again.

I think the example of the residential schools is very relevant, because very traumatic things are happening in their lives and they are seeing them being repeated over and over in the media. Certainly, what I heard from Shannon Buck is that we have to do something. I said, in my closing, that we have to walk together. Her words to me were something like this: What is happening is the community is walking ahead of us and we are supposed to be running behind. We do not want to be walking behind; we want to be walking with you to find solutions to this.