Feel the rage. Yesterday was National Day for Remembrance of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2-Spirit (MMIWG2S+) And they are still appallingly vulnerable.

This one time, years ago, we headed to the Chilcotins for a mountain bike weekend. We stopped, on the way, at a little Nation-run snack shack for a break, some coffee. We ended up lingering longer than I expected, and I didn’t understand why, until we were pulling away and my husband explained that the girl working at the snack shack had asked him to stick around. Another customer had driven up, and was waiting in his vehicle for his food, and she hadn’t wanted to be alone with this guy. So we’d waited until he collected his order and driven away, and the girl had signalled something to my husband, that it was okay now, and away we went.

I recounted the story later, to our friends, bemoaning my general oblivion in life, and that I’d even been having a conversation with the guy, and not picked up any creepy vibes. My husband has a pretty astute radar, and he’s quick to categorize people as “iffy”, whereas I skew the other direction and am always naively believing the best of everyone.

I laughed as I recounted the story to our friends – like, good thing I’ve got this hyper alert partner, because I didn’t pick up any vibe that I was in danger. And a friend said, Maybe you weren’t. Maybe everything was true. And you weren’t.

And that’s when I realized that vulnerability is not evenly spread across all populations, or even amongst all women.

I didn’t pick up a creepy vibe, because I wasn’t a possible target for that person. The young First Nations woman who was working the shack all by herself picked up a creepy vibe, because she is actually sixteen times (1600%!) more likely to be murdered than I am.

(The MMIW inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada — and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women. According to research from Statistics Canada, Indigenous women and girls made up almost 25 per cent of all female homicide victims in this country between 2001 and 2015.)

Statistics Canada has found that even when controlling for other risk factors, Indigenous identity itself remained a risk factor for violent victimization of women which was not found for men. Perpetrators of violence include Indigenous and non-Indigenous family members, partners, casual acquaintances, and serial killers.

Photo by Brittany Andrew

There’s a convoluted history in mainstream media and politics surrounding Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (by which I mean, if you’re not personally invested and just paying attention to news headlines, you likely are barely aware of the entrenched problem and the catastrophic failures on the part of our society’s systems to turn towards it in any meaningful way. You might have heard more about politicking and changes in the make-up of inquiry staff, than the substance of the matter. You may have heard a swarm of media and opinionators pick off the word genocide and argue its applicability, rather then engaging in depth with the gob-smacking horror of the numbers, the stories, the families’ pain and quests for redress.) Yesterday, October 4, was National Day for Remembrance of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2-Spirit (MMIWG2S+). As Chastity Davis from Deyen Transform wrote in her post yesterday, “Indigenous women led grassroots movements for decades before the federal government finally launched a federal inquiry into MMIWG2S+ in 2016.”

Some other dates that signify the efforts of Indigenous women and communities to honour the missing and murdered and raise attention to the injustice of successive waves of uninvestigated disappearances, include:
* February 14, the Women’s Memorial March, in Vancouver (The first Women’s Memorial March was on Valentine’s Day, 1991, in Downtown Eastside, an area infamous for having numerous missing or murdered Indigenous women. The march was in response to the murder of a Coast Salish woman.)
* May 5, Red Dress Day: National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People, when red dresses are worn, or hung, to honour the missing and murdered. The REDress Project began as an art installation by Jaime Black in 2010.
* October 4, Sisters in Spirit vigils began in 2005, as a group of Indigenous women founded Sisters in Spirit, and created the first database of its kind, detailing almost 600 cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada.

The Final Report, “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls”, was released after a closing ceremony June 2019.

PM Trudeau received the report with these words:

“To the survivors and families here today, and to those watching or listening at home, I want you to know that this report is not the end. The work of the commissioners, the stories they have collected, and the calls for justice they have put forward will not be placed on a shelf to collect dust. You have my word that my government will turn the inquiry’s calls for justice into real, meaningful, Indigenous-led action … we must continue to decolonize our existing structures.”

It took two years for the response, a national action plan, to be released, on June 3 2021. I’m feeling underwhelmed by it.

From what I can tell, from this 4 month old news release, the responses we’ve been waiting for, in BC (which has an over-representation nationally of murdered and missing Indigenous women), is to fund cellular phone coverage along the Highway of Tears, to create a $2.7 million First Nations Well-Being Fund, and give out $20 million in grant money to the Ending Violence Association of BC, to support sexual assault survivors.

Which feels a bit like saying, live with it. We’re not reforming the police force. We’re not solving the cases and throwing the book at perpetrators. We’re not talking about the connection between violence against women, and displacing an earth-based matriarchy as a continued enforcement of colonization.

Aargh, it’s so hard to put words to the rage I feel in my body (and that’s my protected white-body.)

This May, to acknowledge Red Dress day (or as artist Jaime Black brilliantly coined: REDress, as in redress, Day), local photographer Brittany Andrew invited Lil’wat girls and women to take part in a photo shoot.

We’ll share those photos tomorrow.

Like everything that seems to be keeping me awake at night these days, the leadership is not coming from the voted-in leaders. It’s been coming, for decades, from women within the Indigenous community, and it’s time for us to amplify their voices to the point that we literally drown out the “blah blah blah” and silky-slick promises that turn out to be hollow.

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