Forget the prime minister, it’s Rinelle Harper we need to listen to

Justice for Indigenous women must stay high on Canada’s radar for 2015
Photo: glassghost

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked by CBC’s Peter Mansbridge in a year-end interview about a national inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered women Aboriginal women, he answered, "It isn't high on our radar, to be honest."

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Women and Indigenous activists have been working against racist and sexist oppression since contact with Europeans, demanding that authorities take this issue more seriously. Last year, the RCMP finally released a report on the issue, recording 164 missing and 1,017 murdered Aboriginal women and finding that “Aboriginal women are over-represented among Canada’s murdered and missing women.”

In a country founded on colonial genocide, more than 1,100 missing and murdered Aboriginal women is a national crisis.

Unspeakable acts of violence against land and bodies

The systemic violence against Aboriginal people in part explains the blatantly disrespectful attitude of our current prime minister and his choice not to prioritize and address the ongoing murders of Indigenous women.

With the goal to “kill the Indian in the child,” the Canadian government contracted the forcible removal of more than 150,000 Aboriginal children from their families, imprisoning mothers who resisted having their kids taken to residential schools. Today Indigenous women are grossly overrepresented in prisons. A 2013 report from the Justice Department stated that the number of Aboriginal women in federal institutions had risen 97 per cent between 2002 and 2012.

None of this is high on our prime minister’s radar, as he occupies himself with the promotion of oil, gas and other extraction industries.

These industries rely on the removal of Indigenous people and their rights and title to their lands and territories. Workers from outside come for the high wages paid for the stressful jobs of resource extraction. They enter the seclusion of all-men camps and then end up with giant pay cheques to spend freely.

The trafficking of Indigenous girls and women that accompanies the extraction industry is a concern for Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in Canada. In a 2007 study on domestic trafficking, researcher Anupriya Sethi highlighted the sexual exploitation of First Nations girls due to the oil and mining businesses in Alberta.

Just as unspeakable acts of destruction are committed against the environment in the name of capitalism and profit, so too are unspeakable acts committed against the bodies of Aboriginal woman.

Unwavering resistance of Aboriginal women

Last year media focused on the death of Loretta Saunders, a pregnant Inuk master’s student who was developing her thesis on missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Her body was found off a New Brunswick highway. This year attention was directed at the murder of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Anishinabe girl in Manitoba.

Though the number of murdered Aboriginal women continues to rise, and our prime minister refuses to call a national inquiry, both members of community and the communities themselves continue to show remarkable courage and strength.

Loretta Saunders’ cousin launched a social media campaign #AmInext, aimed at encouraging a discussion about the issue and the need for a national inquiry. Soon after the hashtag #Iamnotnext went viral, as Aboriginal women in Canada asserted their strength and resistance.

As constant as oppression against First Nations communities is in this country, equally unwavering is the beauty, strength and resiliency of Aboriginal people.

The current surge of advocacy on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women has seen all the opposition parties in Parliament on board in support of a national inquiry. The Conservatives and Harper notwithstanding, this issue is now on our collective radar.

In 2015, let us ignore the unfortunate remarks of the prime minister, and focus instead on the words of another Harper.

Rinelle Harper, a 16-year-old from Garden Hill First Nation in northern Manitoba, survived a violent attack after having been left for dead in November.

The next month Rinelle waived her right for anonymity and eloquently addressed the leaders of the Assembly of First Nations. Against the silence of all the missing and murdered Aboriginal women whose voices we can no longer hear, Rinelle supported the call for a national inquiry and asked that everyone remember a few simple words: “love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.”

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