IndigNation | by Bev Cardinal
Every Dec. 6, Canadians stop to remember the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were gunned down simply because of their gender.
Thirty years later, violence against women continues to escalate — especially if a woman’s skin colour is brown or black.
Here at home in the “land of living skies” we’ve got more than a bit of blood on our hands. I’d love to be able to cite hard evidence but it’s sure not easy finding accurate stats on the numbers of Saskatchewan women and girls who are victims of violence — never mind trying to parse the numbers of Indigenous female victims of violence.
We do know that domestic violence is a crisis, especially for women in rural and Northern areas who can’t easily leave their communities (too bad about STC!).
Am I cynical? Yep. Am I distrustful of government, justice systems, policing and so-called law enforcement led by entitled and privileged white men?
You better fuckin’ believe it.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Perpetrating violence against women and girls is an age-old tactic that’s still widely used. Myanmar, Afghanistan and the Taliban, Syria under the Islamic State — anyone? anyone?
Here in Canada, violence against women generally, and Indigenous girls and women specifically, is deeply rooted in our nation’s history (oh yes it is!). Pre-confederation acquisition of land was accomplished through targeted gender violence to destroy Indigenous peoples’ connection to their territory by attacking those at the heart of that connection: Indigenous women.
It also served to demean Indigenous women’s traditional power and autonomy, destroy societies and reduce Indigenous nations’ ability to create and sustain life.
And then there’s the Canadian government. From the 1870s until 1996, thousands of Indigenous children were forced — or “scooped” — to residential schools to suppress Indigenous language and culture, and annihilate Indigenous peoples. Many faced physical, sexual, emotional and mental abuse. The intergenerational trauma from this history is well documented and continues to drive high rates of poverty, drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, suicide and homicide.
The violence has been unrelenting. Just look at the 2019 Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
In 2018, the Ontario-based Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability identified 148 victims of femicide in Canada. In 91 per cent of the cases, the perpetrator was male; 53 per cent of victims were killed by their intimate partner; and 36 per cent of the victims were Indigenous.
The report notes six women died by violence here in sunny Saskatchewan. Of these six, four were of Indigenous ancestry. Although Indigenous women and girls only make up about five per cent of the total female population of Canada, they account for 36 per cent of all female homicides.
Winnipeg, named from Cree words for “murky water,” has Canada’s largest Indigenous population. It’s where Tina Fontaine’s life came to an end in 2014. She was from Sagkeeng First Nation in Treaty 1 territory. She was 15. Same age as my granddaughter. Maybe the same age as someone in your family?
In the 24 hours before her disappearance, Tina was seen by provincial child welfare workers, police officers and health care professionals. Then she was found dead, dumped in Manitoba’s Red River and wrapped in a plastic bag and duvet weighed down with 25 pounds of rocks.
Tina’s legacy lives on as the face of Indigenous femicide in our country.
On Dec. 6 stop and remember. Maybe light a candle and say a little prayer that your mother, aunties, sisters, cousins, daughters, granddaughters, female family and friends won’t be some man’s next victim.