Days before Valentine’s Day, a woman sat crying on the train and mumbling to herself during the morning rush-hour commute.
Her gold-sequinned skirt was awkwardly bunched up closer to her waist than her knees while she hugged her over-sized bag, which rested on her lap. With her legs bare and her heart on her sleeve, she quietly sobbed, wondering aloud why no one loved her, why someone had lied to her.
Periodically, the woman slipped a finger under the edge of her glasses to wipe away tears and last night’s make-up.
She is Aboriginal.
Honouring those we hold dear
With the holiday of love upon us, the many who hold Aboriginal women dear will gather to demonstrate their commitment around the country.
The Women’s Memorial March started in 1991 in response to the murder of a Coast Salish woman in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It has become an annual event, held on Feb. 14 in honour of the many murdered and missing Aboriginal woman in Canada, an opportunity to express compassion, community and caring for all women made vulnerable to violence.
The victimization of Aboriginal women in this country is close to triple that of women who are not Aboriginal.
According to the most recent data provided by Statistics Canada, in 2009 “close to 67,000 or 13% of all Aboriginal women aged 15 and older living in the provinces stated that they had been violently victimized.” Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) were between the ages of 15 and 34 years.
Nearly half (48 per cent) of the Aboriginal women who had experienced violence from a current or former partner “reported the most severe forms of violence, such as being sexually assaulted, beaten, choked, or threatened with a gun or a knife.”
Although Aboriginal women are more likely than non-Aboriginal women to report incidences of violence, most still don’t.
‘More white papers won’t make the difference’
It seems that almost everyone, from the parents of these women to many politicians, thinks that an inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada would help answer why they became victims and help prevent further victimization of Aboriginal women. But would it?
Do we not already know that many Aboriginal women are born into poverty and that a symptom of poverty is violence? That many Aboriginal women have parents who never had the chance to learn how to parent because they were torn from families to attend residential schools? That people who have lost connection with their culture, language and history don’t have that to give to their daughters?
Do we not already know that substance abuse is a plague on Aboriginal people? Do we not already know that many Aboriginal people are sick, sad, angry and in pain?
Haven’t we known this for hundreds of years? Is it not clear that the only way to save not only Aboriginal women but all indigenous people in this country is to heal?
As Aboriginal people, we have long suffered at the hands of others and more recently at the hands of each other. To begin to heal, we must start within. More white papers won’t make the difference we need right now.
A Cheyenne proverb says, “A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is done, no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons.”
To learn to love each other and ourselves again is what will protect us, what will save us, what will give us the strength to go on and fight for our rights.
Expressing caring and compassion will build community—feeling good about ourselves, feeling pride in who we are and where we come from, and feeling supported by our people will lift all our hearts up off the ground.