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No More Stolen Sisters

    If you are an Indigenous woman or girl in Canada—whether you live on reserve or in an urban area, regardless of your age or socio-economic status—the simple fact that you are an Indigenous woman or girl means that you are at least 3 times more likely to experience violence, and at least 6 times more likely to be murdered than any other woman or girl in Canada. This violence is a national human rights crisis and it must stop.

    Why are the rates of violence so high?

    Racist and sexist stereotypes lead perpetrators to believe that they can get away with committing acts of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

    The many legacies of colonialism increase the risk of experiencing violence—from impoverishment to the lasting harm from residential schools to the disempowerment of Indigenous women and girls in their own communities.

    Decades of government and law enforcement inaction to end the violence.

    Dr. Cindy Blackstock, a member of the Gitxan Nation, is a prominent researcher and advocate for the rights of children. As Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Cindy has brought a landmark discrimination case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to challenge the federal government’s chronic underfunding of children’s services on First Nations reserves and for First Nations children in the Yukon. The closing arguments in that hearing will take place October 20-24 and will be webcast live at fnwitness.ca.

    We spoke with Cindy as part of a series of conversation with Indigenous advocates and leaders to mark the 10th anniversary of Amnesty International’s report Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada.

    There is not one cause of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and likewise, there is not one single solution. A comprehensive, coordinated, well resourced national response, developed with Indigenous women and girls, is needed to end the violence. 

    What solutions are needed to stop the violence?

    A comprehensive national response to end violence against Indigenous women and girls should include:

    A national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women focused on exposing the nature of this violence and on ensuring government and police accountability for an effective and coordinated response.

    A national action plan to end violence against women which addresses the root causes of violence and identifies holistic, culturally-appropriate ways in which to prevent violence and to support those impacted by violence.

    All governments have a responsibility to do everything in their power to prevent violence against women. This includes provincial and territorial governments as well as municipalities. It also includes Indigenous governments and institutions such as Band Councils. All have a shared responsibility to be part of the solution to ending violence against Indigenous women and girls.

    However, the federal government has a particular responsibility to help ensure the safety and well-being of Indigenous women and girls.

    Here are some of the reasons why:

    Amnesty International is in the process of conducting research into the human rights impacts of large-scale natural resource development in northeastern British Columbia, with a particular focus on the region’s urban centre, Fort St. John. Part of this research focuses on the human rights impacts on women and girls, and particularly Indigenous women and girls.

    Why? Because every year women from Fort St. John travel to Ottawa with a banner listing the missing and murdered women and girls in their community—and every year the banner includes more names. And because, as a wide range of people and organizations from this region have pointed out, environmental assessments and other decision-making processes around large-scale natural resource development projects need to pay more attention to their impact on people's lives and the social fabric of the communities they live in.

    Violence against Indigenous women and girls isn't just an Indigenous issue or a women's issue. It is a Canadian issue and to end the violence each one of us must commit to taking action in our daily lives. What can you do?

    Reports

    Amnesty International's 2004 Stolen Sisters report was one of the first reports to systematically document the pattern of violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Due to continued government inaction to end the violence, the findings and recommendations in the 2004 report, and its 2009 update, are as relevant today as they were at the time of publishing.

    A report released by the RCMP earlier this year marks the first time that police in Canada have attempted, at the national level, to identify how many First Nations, Inuit or Métis women and girls have been murdered or have gone missing.

    According to the report, 1,017 women and girls identified as Indigenous were murdered between 1980 and 2012—a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada.

    In addition, the report states that as of November 2013, at least 105 Indigenous women and girls remained missing under suspicious circumstances or for undetermined reasons.

    These appalling statistics are consistent with previous estimates from sources such as Statistics Canada that have long pointed to a greatly disproportionate level of violence against that First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls. The latest numbers also underline what Indigenous women and advocacy organizations have long been saying–that this violence requires a specific and concerted response from police and all levels of society.

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