December 19, 2014 | BETTY ANN LAVALLÉE
In a recent interview in the Citizen, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt urged action by First Nations and provincial governments to address the problem of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. Everyone can support that. We all need to participate in finding and implementing solutions.
But the minister does not want to participate in finding solutions to this national tragedy. He disagrees with national Aboriginal organizations and the 75 per cent of the Canadian public who want an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
And then he made matters worse.
First, the minister claimed to know all that needs to be known about the issue, refusing calls for “an inquiry that will bring about what? Exactly what we know today.” Then he said that the root cause for violence against missing and murdered women is a “lack of respect for women” among Aboriginal men on reserve, where they “grow up believing women have no rights.”
It is a perspective that serves several purposes for the minister. It also promotes the kind of thinking that only exacerbates the problem.
By suggesting that he already knows the root causes of the violence faced by Aboriginal women in Canada, he can deny the need for further inquiry. By suggesting the violence is entirely attributable to Aboriginal men on reserves, he can pretend that the non-Aboriginal community in Canada is completely innocent.
It is an analysis built from one fact cited in a report on the issue by the RCMP: that more than 80 per cent of the murdered Aboriginal women knew their attacker or were related to him. From this, he concludes that the entire problem – the one about which he needs to ask no further questions – must be spousal violence on reserve.
But that same report says the same proportion of non-Aboriginal women knew or were related to the perpetrators of violence against them. I doubt the minister would say this is because non-Aboriginal men grow up believing that women have no rights.
Plus, more than 60 per cent of the missing persons cases and 70 per cent of the murders of Aboriginal women take place in urban centres. Winnipeg, Toronto and Edmonton are not on reserve. The Highway of Tears is not on reserve. Robert Pickton’s farm is not on reserve.
And why would he think Aboriginal women only know or are related to Aboriginal men? Is it because he doesn’t want to find out that non-Aboriginal men may have an equal or greater role in what is happening? Is it a desire to avoid looking at systemic issues like colonialism and racism, how they affect the lives our women lead and how they influence the actions of police and the justice system?
I am an Aboriginal woman in a political role. I have faced my share of sexism, from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men alike. It is a problem in both societies and certainly one of the issues at play in this tragedy. But sexism is not the entire problem.
To deny the reality of their lives and deaths is to dishonour the memory of these women and girls. The minister owes an apology to their families. To put all the blame on Aboriginal men on reserve is dishonest. The minister owes an apology to them as well. To mislead the public about this national tragedy in a manner that perpetuates colonialism is a disservice to every Canadian. The minister owes an apology to us all.
Betty Ann Lavallée is the national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.