More Than 16 Days: Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada

Day 12 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: This article written by Andrea Landry and originally posted on Take Back the Tech! invites you to take one action per day to end violence against women by exploring an issue of violence against women and its interconnection with communication rights.

Canada is more often than not, placed on the global pedestal in regards to being a prime example of leadership in the realm of Human Rights. Yet, the reality is far from that truth. The oppressive history set to destroy Indigenous populations in Canada, historically and presently, depicts a far more gruesome reality of the lives of those who thrived on Canadian soil first. The development of oppressive legislation, the residential school systems and the cyclical nature that this created, and the cases of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canada, are just a few significant examples of how horrendous Canada’s truth truly is in the avenue of Human Rights.

Canada mobilized an atrocious concept of “killing the Indian in the child,” as part of its legislation under the Indian Act, and as a form of their ultimate goal in developing a so-called better Canada. This process began during post-contact within Canada. As time progressed, so did the demeaning laws against Indigenous peoples in Canada. In 1857 and 1885, legislative amendments were formulated surrounding the Indian Act in Canada. The amendments were labelled as the Gradual Civilization Act and the forceful removal of all aboriginal children from their homes into the residential school systems. This is where the cycle of abuse can be said to have started to grow its roots.

The residential school system in Canada began in 1884 and continued for a century and more. Within these schools, young Indigenous children, as young as 4, were forcibly removed from their homes for years at a time, and placed into a school run by the Catholic churches. Within these schools they were forced to cut their hair short, forbidden to speak their Indigenous languages, forbidden to contact their siblings or family members within the schools, and forbidden to have any recognition surrounding themselves as sovereign Indigenous peoples. Years would go by without any contact to parents, and all forms of abuse, physical, emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual, were all inflicted upon children. Cases of forced abortions from being impregnated from priests, mass gravesites of children killed within the school system, and sterilization of young girls are just a few examples of the stories coming forward today. The reality is, the Canadian government was doing everything it possibly could to destroy the minds, spirits, hearts, and souls of all Indigenous children in Canada.

Being an Indigenous woman in Canada myself, I have felt the systemic impacts of these oppressive legislative structures that have been formulated against my people. My grandfather, and great-aunty, both attended the residential school system at the young ages of 6 years old. It was within these systems that their nightmares became a constant reality, and their truth was silenced by volatile anger and abuse within the school itself. We see this significantly within Indigenous families in Canada. Once children returned home, often in their late teens, they began to try to find alternate ways to heal themselves. Many chose disoriented pathways that are significantly associated with the definition of shame and anger. Yet, many found love and began to raise their own families. The past becomes triggered within the families, and in many cases, violence and abuse became a norm within the families of those who attended the residential school system. The truth is, it’s all they may have known. Through this reality, the systemic impacts impacted my mother’s upbringing. She doesn’t tell me much of what her childhood was like, but from the small amounts of information that she does share, I feel the pain within her heart, I see the tears in her eyes, and I know the significant negative impact that the oppressive systems had on her own family. This system also impacted my own upbringing. Times of struggle occurred and it was through these difficult times that I recognized the reality that my peoples live through daily. Yet, I didn’t know how to heal or fix it. Simply put, I dove into a very violent relationship. The violence, emotionally and physically, was something I kept hidden. The secret was overwhelming, and many evenings were spent crying and asking the question “why?” Yet, here, the actuality lay in my people.

Academics state that more than 1 out of 3 Native women will be raped in her life-time. This shows the impact that violence has on Indigenous women, not only in Canada, but North America as well. And looking at the statistics further, one will find that more often than not, the history of these women, and the men involved within the situations, stem from the residential school system and other legislation association with the assimilative processes of the Canadian government. The most unrecognized portion of these statistics is the fact that it is occurring every day, and the voices of those women are being lost on the frozen, narrow dirt roads and highways of Canada.

Over 600 cases of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women have been stated in Canada. Yet, these voices and stories are being silences by the government’s lack of accountability in regards to this issue. The Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women’s Inquiry in Canada has been called to the attention of the Canadian government on numerous occasions, whether it was through Indigenous women-lead NGO’s or utilized systems such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Yet, the Canadian government passes this off as something that isn’t a priority within the economic agenda. Violence and murder against Indigenous women isn’t a priority? The bodies lay lifeless on the logging roads, and the voices become silenced as the cases are closed one after another. The real question is, how much oppression can our women take after hundreds of years of colonized mindsets deconstructing Indigenous truth and reality.

This image of violence and this component of murder within Indigenous communities in Canada are silenced for a reason. Is it through the reconstruction of reformative legislation, the ending of the residential school systems (as the last doors were shut in 1996) and the cyclical nature that this created, and the opening of the cases of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canada that we can create positive and meaningful change. Younger generations are slowly reconstructing and speaking up against it. It is not okay to keep this a secret, because notions of violence and rape were never traditional.

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, Take Back the Tech!, Young Professionals Amnesty International (NYC), writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.

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