Tag Archives: Indigenous women and girls

National Inquiry Deems Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women Canadian Genocide; Leaked Report

The final report from the national inquiry into cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada has deemed the situation a genocide.

The report was leaked by CBC News, which published the details on Friday.

The report found that about 1,200 women and girls have been murdered or gone missing since 1980, some advocates believe the actual number is far higher.

The report concluded that what happened in Canada consisted of a disproportionate level of violence facing indigenous women and girls in the country, spurred by “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies.”

“Genocide is the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed within the report,” the summary said. “As many witnesses expressed, this country is at war, and Indigenous women, girls…are under siege.”

The report acknowledged disagreements over what constituted genocide but concluded: “The national inquiry’s findings support characterizing these acts, including violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] people, as genocide.”

The report also concludes that colonial violence, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people has become embedded into everyday life, resulting in many Indigenous people becoming normalized to violence.

The report urges all actors in the justice system, including police services, to build respectful working relationships with Indigenous Peoples by “knowing, understanding, and respecting the people they are serving.”

Actions should include reviewing and revising all policies, practices, and procedures to ensure service delivery that is culturally appropriate and reflects no bias or racism toward Indigenous Peoples, including victims and survivors of violence, says the report.

During the course of the inquiry, it notes, policing representatives acknowledged the “historic and ongoing harms” that continue to affect First Nations, Metis and Inuit families, as well as the need to make changes to how non-Indigenous and Indigenous police work to protect safety.

CBC said the report contains more than 230 recommendations.

The 2014 murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg sparked public outcry and renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

The inquiry was launched by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

It has heard from more than 2,000 witnesses since 2017 – including survivors of violence and family members of missing women and girls.

The final report of the $92-million inquiry is slated to be released to the public in Gatineau, Que., on Monday.

The Closing Ceremony will be live streamed:

Website: http://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca

By RPM Staff, Updated June 2, 2019

Justin Trudeau Berated at Hill Gathering over Missing, Murdered Women Inquiry

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood quietly with his head down Wednesday as families expressed extreme anger toward him about the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Trudeau must reset the inquiry led by four commissioners, Maggie Cywink from Whitefish River First Nation said in a speech to an annual gathering on Parliament Hill.

“If you want to be remembered as a prime minister who is healing ties with First Nations, then you must start with our women and families,” said Cywink, whose sister, Sonya Cywink, was found slain near London, Ont. in 1994.

“Will you be seen as yet another politician, in the very long list of politicians, who simply peddled in the age-old craft of empty promises?

The government’s version of reconciliation looks a lot like colonization, said Connie Greyeyes from Fort Saint John, B.C.

“How do you come out here and say that you support families?” she said.

“How dare you come out here and say these things?”

Before Trudeau began to address the audience, someone in the crowd urged that he “go home.”

He went on to thank family members for sharing their frustration and for challenging him to do better.

“The missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry is something that I have long believed in, long supported,” he said. “It was never going to be easy.”

His wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, told family members she can’t imagine what it is like to lose a loved one for “senseless reasons.”

“I stand here before you as a woman, as a mother, as a fellow Canadian, as a human being,” she said. “We are suffering with you.”

One of the inquiry’s commissioners, Michele Audette, attended the Hill event.

The Canadian Press, October 5, 2017



MMIWG Families Slam ‘Colonial’ Inquiry Process, Demand Hard Reset

Marion Buller chief commissioner of national inquiry. (CP)

Relatives, supporters says their concerns have been ignored by commissioners, minister

Dozens of family members, activists and academics have written an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demanding the “deeply misguided” inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls be scrapped and restarted with a new panel of commissioners.

The coalition says relatives have been shut out of the process and that commissioners are on a path that will not lead to the successful fulfillment of the inquiry’s mandate.

“They have continually dismissed our concerns, refused to take steps to rebuild trust, and have maintained a deeply misguided approach that imposes a harmful, colonial process on us,” the letter reads. “This has and continues to create trauma as well as insecurity and a lack of safety for our families, communities, and loved ones.”

Families wrote a letter complaining about being excluded three months ago, but say their deep-seated concerns were ignored. The letter was used only to pit families against families, the coalition said.

Families and supporters are also accusing Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett of dismissing their concerns.

A statement from the minister’s office said the government remains committed to ending the “ongoing national tragedy,” and that the inquiry’s terms of reference require that families be central to the commission’s work.

After meeting with the commissioners, Bennett was satisfied they had a plan and dedication to address families’ concerns, which will adapt as the inquiry progresses.

‘Immediate action’

The statement said the government is working in the meantime with Inuit, First Nations and Métis partners to honour the lost and to advance reconciliation.

“We’ve taken immediate action with a new gender-based violence strategy, changes to the child and family welfare system for Indigenous children, safe housing, shelters and work with British Columbia towards safe transport on the Highway of Tears,” the statement reads.

The inquiry has been plagued with problems, including staff departures and last month’s resignation by Marilyn Poitras, a Métis professor at the University of Saskatchewan. She cited issues with the “current structure” of the inquiry, which is set to get underway this fall.

But the letter from relatives and supporters says too much damage has been done and too much time has lapsed to rebuild trust now.

Instead of drawing on Indigenous knowledge and practices, the inquiry has been rooted in a colonial model that prioritizes a Eurocentric medical and legal framework, it reads.

“Such an approach is rooted in a broader culture of colonial violence that is inherently exploitative towards Indigenous peoples and causes ongoing trauma and violence for us as families,” the letter says.

Health, legal and community relations team workers for the inquiry are scheduled to be in two Saskatchewan cities this week to meet with families who wish to participate.

The teams are in Regina and Saskatoon to get in contact with families who want to participate in the truth gathering process which will be held in Saskatoon in November.

Source: CBC News

Frustrated Families Vow to ‘Blockade’ Missing and Murdered Inquiry Hearings

Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, right, comforts Shirley Gunner, as John Fox looks on during a news conference regarding the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls national inquiry in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Father of murdered woman says inquiry is at a ‘crisis’ point

By John Paul Tasker, CBC News Posted: May 23, 2017

Some family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are vowing to blockade meetings of the national inquiry to protest what they call a disastrous start.

“We are prepared to take blockades against this inquiry, if it goes through our communities we will be there, it doesn’t matter where,” John Fox told reporters Tuesday.

Fox said many families are “tired of the commissioners,” the people who are responsible for collecting testimony from families, and they are frustrated with the lack of familial support. Fox said calls to the 1-800 number are not returned and emails go unanswered by the bureaucrats staffing the inquiry’s office. He wants to ensure he can get on the list of speakers when the inquiry finally rolls through his town.

“What are we supposed to do? What other things can I do to get my name on there?” he asked.

Fox, the father of Cheyenne Marie Fox, a 20-year-old woman who died in Toronto in 2013, said the inquiry has unfairly placed the blame on families for cancelling scheduled meetings this summer rather than admit they were simply not prepared.

The inquiry has said it would go ahead with the first meeting in Whitehorse at the end of the month, but suspend others until the fall because many witnesses told them that they would be out on the land hunting, trapping and harvesting and would not have time to meet with commissioners. Fox said Tuesday that was nonsense.

“They took that little bit of information, somebody said it in passing, but now they paint all our families with that one big brush, but that’s not fair,” he said. “The harvesting and all of that other stuff, that’s always going to happen … we would be there.”

‘They can’t even get the race horse out of the gate.’– John Fox

Fox said Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was able to hold pre-inquiry meetings throughout the country in a matter of months, but, nearly a year after the launch of the national inquiry, things remain largely at a standstill.

“Why can she pull off the pre-inquiry, and get all the statements in that short period of time? And this inquiry now … they don’t have an idea of what they’re going to do? All the money and expertise in front of them and they can’t even get the race horse out of the gate.”

(As of May 23, the inquiry has already spent roughly 10 per cent of its $53-million budget.)

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also voiced his frustrations Tuesday. Bellegarde said he has invited the five MMIWG commissioners to meet with family members on three different occasions but was rejected.

“Clear communication and outreach to family members are essential to rebuild trust and ensure the national inquiry is a success,” Bellegarde said, adding the process must take a “families first” approach, based on respect for survivors and their loved ones.

Jocelyn Iahtail, who has long fought for a national inquiry, said many families have simply given up hope with the process so far because it has not respected Indigenous spirituality and language.

Jocelyn Iahtail, who has long fought for a national inquiry, said many have simply given up hope with the process so far because it has not respected Indigenous spirituality and language.

She said while Marion Buller, the chief commissioner, admitted last week some mistakes had been made, more needs to be done to regain the trust of many family members. Elders are trying to speak in their Indigenous languages but are simply not understood by record keepers, she said, and there is little respect paid to sacred instruments like the drum, fire ceremonies and tobacco.

“We cannot have our sacred stories yet again shelved like every other report has been shelved. We’ve had many family members state that it is running very much like the Indian residential school process when they were meeting with adjudicators. It is like a court process. We’ve been very consistent since the beginning that it has to be Indigenous knowledge-based.”

Iahtail said the commission has also been tight-fisted with money to help families travel to inquiry meetings, and has been reluctant to provide legal services to those in need.

Buller said Friday she understands frustration from families, but chalked up problems to poor communications.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of staff issues. It’s our fault for not communicating the tremendous work we have already accomplished.”

The commission has cycled through three directors of communications in 10 months, and has been plagued by complaints from family members about compressed timelines. The first interim report from the inquiry is due by November 2017.


Manitoba Families of Missing, Murdered Say Hearings Must Go Ahead

An open letter signed by officials with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition says the hearings have been long in coming and families are anxious. (Francis Vachon/The Canadian Press)

Staff | The Canadian Press – April 25, 2017

A coalition that represents Manitoba family members says national hearings into missing and murdered indigenous women must begin soon despite the uncertainty surrounding the process.

An open letter signed by officials with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition says the hearings, slated to begin at the end of May, have been long in coming and families are anxious.

“Indigenous families, women and girls cannot afford a ‘pause’ in your process. We have heard directly from families of (missing and murdered indigenous women) they are quickly losing hope that your inquiry will actually be relevant to them,” states the letter, dated last Wednesday.

“We call on you to, at a minimum, announce in the near future when you, as commissioners, will finally go out and listen to our people.”

Inquiry officials announced April 13 that they were postponing a series of regional advisory meetings, which were supposed to help determine what issues should be covered when the formal hearings get underway.

Since then, the Manitoba coalition said there has been no communication. The group is also worried many family members may have a hard time being included in the hearings.

“You have not yet initiated meetings with Manitoba survivors of violence or who were missing, families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, as well as First Nations and communities that are part of your mandate,” the letter states.

A spokesperson for the inquiry commission said Monday the advisory hearings were put on pause to look at possible changes for the inquiry hearings, and the May start date is still a go.

“The message we received is that we must be flexible and be prepared to change course if need be. This time is an opportunity for us to reflect on our approach for future truth-finding gatherings,” Tiar Wilson wrote in an email.

The uncertainty over how families across Canada may be ensured participation in the inquiry has led some indigenous leaders to call for the inquiry to be postponed.

Eric Robinson, former deputy premier and aboriginal affairs minister of Manitoba, said a delay is warranted to ensure the inquiry is fair and thorough.

“Let’s not do a job that’s in half-measures. I think that it’s got to be done in a thorough fashion and there’s got to be satisfaction … for the families,” Robinson said.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, who represents First Nations in northern Manitoba, said the process so far has been troublesome.

“I still believe that it should take place and that they should go forward and I respect the fact that they’re being flexible,” she said.

“But at the same time, I’m worried that the families … are losing a little bit of faith in the process because there seem to be some false starts.”


‘We Want The Violence to Stop’: Dozens Gather at Vigil for Jeanenne Fontaine

Lana Fontaine sat on a stool outside her largely burned-down home on Saturday evening at a vigil for her daughter, Jeanenne Fontaine, who died on Wednesday after being taken off life-support. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Fontaine, 29, and Shania Chartrand, 21, were both shot, killed in Winnipeg this week

CBC News Posted: Mar 18, 2017

When Kimberley Kostiuk thinks about the two young Indigenous women who were shot in Winnipeg within 48 hours of each other, she is afraid for her own daughters.

“I have two young daughters that are that age. I worry for them all the time. You just don’t know … what’s going to be next. Two young women shot and killed in one week,” she said.

Shania Chartrand, 21, was shot late last Sunday night on the 200 block of Spence Street.

On Tuesday, Jeanenne Fontaine, 29, was found in her home after she was shot in the back of the head, according to her family, and the house was set on fire. She was rushed to hospital but died on Wednesday morning, after being taken off life-support.

A vigil for Fontaine took place on Saturday at 7 p.m. outside her home on the 400 block of Aberdeen Avenue.

“The whole community is sad. We are all sad. We are very scared,” Kostiuk said.

“We want the violence to stop. It’s enough, we are losing too many of our young women too soon. This shouldn’t be happening.”

Mourners came forward to offer Lana Fontaine condolences throughout the evening. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Fontaine was the cousin of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old girl whose death sparked public outrage and calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Sandy Banman was one of around 50 people who attended the Saturday evening vigil. Banman hadn’t known Fontaine or Chartrand, but came to support the families and community.

“It just seems like something has shifted in the last few years, where the crime [in the North End] seems to be getting extremely … violent,” she said. “It’s just absolutely shocking what’s going on here this week in the city, with Shania’s loss as well as Jen’s loss.”

A member of Winnipeg’s Urban Warrior Alliance, Banman said she’s been to too many vigils in the past. She wants to see change.

Sandy Banman

Sandy Banman, a member of the Urban Warrior Alliance, said she wants to see more accessible detox programs for men, women and families in Winnipeg. (CBC)

“We just keep saying over and over, ‘This has got to stop,’ every vigil I do,” she said. “We do these vigils because the community needs to heal as well as families. This violence has to end. It has to stop.”

Banman said she wanted to see more accessible detox programs for men, women and families.

“We need to be healing families so this kind of crime and violence will end,” she said.

‘They are human beings’

Kostiuk is a member of Drag the Red, an organization that started searching the Red River for bodies after Tina Fontaine was found there.

Kostiuk joined the group in order to heal and to help others after her 16-year-old daughter’s death in 2000.

While Fontaine struggled with drug use and had a criminal record, Kostiuk said she was also a mother and sister.

“You hear a lot of negativity also about these people but people don’t know them,” she said.

“They are human beings. They are women. They are our women. They are mothers. They are sisters. They are grandmas. They don’t deserve this. Nobody does.”

Kimberley Kostiuk says the violence needs to stop after two young Indigenous women were shot in Winnipeg within 48 hours of each other. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The vigil was intended to give the community an opportunity to mourn Fontaine and Chartrand and “remember the good that they had in them,” Kostiuk said. But they are becoming too frequent for the Fontaine family, she added.

“That poor family, I can’t imagine what her mother is going through right now,” Kostiuk said, adding the little cousins have lost too many family members.

“They’ve been to so many vigils already. They shouldn’t even have to think of this at a young age.”


AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Urges Province Of Manitoba To Cooperate Fully With National Inquiry

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Logo.

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Logo.


AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Urges Manitoba Government to Cooperate Fully with Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

WINNIPEG, June 30, 2016 /CNW/ – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Regional Chief for Manitoba, Kevin Hart, stated today that the Province of Manitoba should cooperate fully in supporting and participating in a national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, in light of reported statements by Manitoba’s Justice Minister that there are concerns about the inquiry’s potential terms of reference.

“I am calling on the Government of Manitoba to fully support the upcoming national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and for Premier Pallister to honour the promise he made during the election to support the national inquiry. Recent reported statements are of deep concern to me. This crucial inquiry, a process that has been commended on the national stage at the United Nations and beyond, has been fought for by many families, political leaders, advocacy groups and activists.

Now is not the time for political posturing on the backs of the families affected by this national tragedy. I am not only concerned but deeply offended that this government would be resistant to cooperating as this process gets underway. When it comes to reconciliation in this province, much work lies ahead of us, and the national inquiry is an essential piece in that work.

Each statistic tells a story, and as each day goes by another innocent life is lost or put at risk. Our families have waited too long and worked too hard. The national inquiry must do justice to our stolen sisters – and this can only be achieved through the full support, respect and cooperation of all levels of government in Canada. We all must share in the responsibility seeing this process through to fruition.”

SOURCE Assembly of First Nations

For further information: Kayla Frank, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, 204-296-3601, kfrank@manitobachiefs.com


Manitoba Grand Chiefs Call On Trudeau To Fulfil Promise Of MMIW Inquiry

AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak (left), AFN Grand Chief Sheila North-Wilson (centre) and AFN Manitoba regional Chief Kevin Hart (right) meet Tuesday morning following the Liberal's majority federal election win. (CBC)

AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak (left), AFN Grand Chief Sheila North-Wilson (centre) and AFN Manitoba regional Chief Kevin Hart (right) meet Tuesday morning following the Liberal’s majority federal election win. (CBC)

CBC News

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson is hoping to see a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls called in the first 100 days of Justin Trudeau’s time as prime minister.

North Wilson, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Manitoba regional Chief Kevin Hart gathered at a news conference Tuesday morning to congratulate Trudeau on the Liberal’s majority win.

North Wilson said she looks forward to working with the new Liberal government and is eager to see Trudeau fulfil his campaign promise to call a national inquiry.

“This is something that’s near and dear to our hearts and to my heart,” she said.

North Wilson said it’s crucial to take a deeper look at why Canadians are seeing epidemic numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

“We want families to be involved in the framework of what the national inquiry would look like,” said North Wilson. “There are many things that we’re hearing from our own families of why they see these problems. A lot of it has to do with poverty and lack of education and even just a complete disregard for our people and our families and that just can’t be anymore.”

North Wilson credits the commitment of women, men, teens and children who have been working to draw attention to the issue.

“They were relentless in holding vigils and ceremonies on our streets where women were found,” said North Wilson. “They were relentless and they brought out leaders and they brought out media. Sometimes there was only three people at a vigil, but they still held it.”

Outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper had refused to call an inquiry, despite repeated calls to do so.

AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said of all campaign promises made in this election, a commitment to hold an inquiry stands out as the most important to him.

“I think that Canadians recognize that there is a tragedy, there’s a national crime that’s happening on the streets of the cities and towns, communities across the nation,” said Nepinak.

Nepinak said he wanted to thank all Canadians who rallied together to bring the issue to the forefront.

“It’s not us versus them, it’s only us.” said Nepinak. “All those Canadians who saw this as an issue and went out to vote in a different way this time around, thank you so much for doing that.”

Nepinak believes involving families, as well as creating healing mechanisms for those affected, is vital to ensuring an inquiry has a meaningful impact on people’s lives.


Rally For Tina Fontaine Ends With Cousins Wanting A Meeting With Investigators

Video: Justice For Tina Fontaine March

By Black Powder | Red Power Media, Updated: Aug 23, 2015

A one year anniversary rally and march was held in Winnipeg to demand justice for 15 yr old, Tina Fontaine.

On Friday, Tina Fontaine’s cousins and their stepmother, gathered with local indigenous activists and community members at City Hall for a rally, before they marched in the streets to demand justice for Tina.

On Aug 21, 2014, five days after the teen’s body was pulled from the Red River, calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, were renewed when a protest camp was set up across from the legislative building in Winnipeg.

A handful of indigenous women set up the camp, — calling on the Harper government for an inquiry— that lasted 3 weeks and by the end some 50 tents had went up. The protest camp gained national attention.

Womens Protest Camp Winnipeg Photo: Red Power Media

The womens protest camp for a national inquiry in Winnipeg. (Sept. 2014) File Photo: Red Power Media

One year to the day, the protest continued as some of the same indigenous women and local activists who took part in setting up the camp, also organized a rally and march for Tina and her family.

Cousins of Tina’s including, Katie Fontaine and her sisters Rose and Angel, took part in an emotional rally, where tears streamed down their faces.

Tina Fontaine’s cousins and their mother at an emotional rally at Winnipeg city hall.

Tina Fontaine’s cousins and their stepmother Sarah Courchaine at an emotional City Hall rally. Screenshot: Red Power Media

A group of about 40 activists and community members walked with the cousins from City Hall along Main Street to Portage Avenue then to the Public Safety Building (PBS) where the Winnipeg Police Service is located, to mark the one year anniversary.

Jennifer Spence-Clarke, Left and Sandy Banman, Right, are two of the women organizers from last years protest camp who took part in the march for and rally for Tina Fontaine.

Jennifer Spence-Clarke, left and Sandy Banman, right, are two of the women organizers from last years protest camp who took part in the rally and march for Tina Fontaine.

Many held signs calling for Justice for Tina.

The goal was to once again encourage the federal government to launch an inquiry and pressure local police to provide more information to the Fontaine family about Tina’s unsolved murder.


Katie said the family still isn’t getting any answers from police and no one has been arrested.

Video: No Justice, No Peace for Tina at PSB building

After indigenous activists, along with Tina’s cousins had blocked the doorway of the PBS building, —where chants of No Justice, No Peace yelled out— Red Power Media asked a police officer for an update on Tina Fontaine’s case.

Video: Red Power Media asks the Police for an update on Tina’s ongoing investigation.

Police say investigators will make themselves available to meet with the Fontaine family.

Thelma Favel, Tina’s great aunt who cared for her before she was placed in care of child and family services, has said she wants more information to give her closure and allow her to grieve Tina’s death.

Katie told Red Power Media, that her family now wants to meet with investigators working on Tina’s case, to get answers, to the questions they have.

She also said “It makes me feel good people are still out there, trying to help us get the answers.”

Tina Fontaine

Tina Fontaine

Take Action On Missing Aboriginal Women

A photograph of Dauphinais is seen as participants hug during the '24 Hour Sacred Gathering of Drums' protest calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

A photograph of Dauphinais is seen as participants hug during the ’24 Hour Sacred Gathering of Drums’ protest calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Victoria Times Colonist

An arm of the Organization of American States is calling for a Canadian action plan or nationwide inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

An inquiry is needed, but it should do more than gather the tragic statistics with which we are already familiar. It should be specifically focused on finding solutions. We don’t need another report collecting dust while more lives are lost.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released its report Monday from an investigation the commission conducted in Canada in 2013. The commission’s main focus was on B.C., since this province accounts for 28 per cent of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada, but its report said what happens in B.C. reflects a pattern across the country.

Claudette Dumont-Smith, executive director of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said: “This requires leadership from the government of Canada, since its leadership and participation is necessary in order to ensure nationwide co-ordinated, effective efforts.”

In total numbers, far more nonaboriginal women are murder victims than aboriginal women, but it’s the ratio that is shocking. Indigenous peoples account for 4.3 per cent of Canada’s population, yet 17 per cent of women murdered over the past 30 years were aboriginal.

It’s a heartbreaking situation, but not particularly mysterious. While the commission says a “fuller understanding” is needed, the underlying causes are fairly obvious and have been for generations.

“Indigenous women and girls constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in Canada,” says the report. “Poverty, inadequate housing and economic and social relegation, among other factors, contribute to their increased vulnerability to violence.

This persistence of longstanding social and economic marginalization has given rise to large numbers of indigenous women living in vulnerable situations, including homelessness, and abusive relationships. It has also led to the disproportionate engagement of indigenous women in highrisk activities such as hitchhiking, drug use, gang activity and prostitution.

“They face discrimination on multiple fronts: as women within their home communities due to the patriarchal legacy of colonization, as women in mainstream society and as aboriginal persons in mainstream society.”

The commission’s report dwells at length on the frustrations families of murdered and missing women have experienced. Its recommendations are aimed at ensuring police take more seriously reports of missing aboriginal women, and that victims’ families get access to information.

But the action plan should go far beyond that. The problems are deeply rooted in the past, and solutions will be difficult, but not impossible. They include better housing, social programs, better educational and economic opportunities, and stronger supports to help families stay intact.

Yes, those measures cost money, but they will pay off. Poverty, isolation and lack of opportunity spawn substance abuse, crime and violence, which cost all of us dearly.

This holds true for any sector of our society where poverty rules, but Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples and the paternalistic Indian Act have exacerbated the problems.

The rights commission’s report acknowledges that governments in Canada are aware of the problems and have been taking steps. It cites the federal government’s statement: “Canada has been clear that abhorrent acts of violence will not be tolerated in our society, and remains committed to take action to address the situation of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada.”

Those words need to be backed up by concrete measures, and those measures cannot be imposed from above – they must be worked out by all groups affected. The involvement of aboriginal women and First Nations leadership is crucial.

While a deeper understanding of the issue will be helpful, let’s remember that the statistics are not merely numbers. They represent real people and suffering families.

Originally posted in Victoria Times Colonist January 14, 2015