How ironic that Valentine’s Day, a day that is meant to be filled with love and it’s sweet memories can be a source of so much pain for so many. Anishinabe quay Sharon Johnson, one of the principle organizers of the annual Full Moon Memory Walk which was held this year on Valentine’s day in Thunder Bay is well acquainted with that pain and the grief that is its constant companion. The body of her 18-year-old sister Sandra Kaye was found brutalized and naked on a frozen February floodway 22 years ago. Her murderer remains at large, the crime unsolved.
“I think about her all the time, and someday there will be answers and my family won’t hurt so much anymore,” Johnson said. Through the annual Full Moon Memory Walk Sharon has channelled her grief into remembrance and ensuring that the rest of Canadian society becomes acquainted with the troubling mysteries surrounding what has now become over 850 missing and murder cases of Aboriginal women in Canada – many of which remain unsolved.
In last month’s column (Feb. 20 issue), I referred to detailed reports prepared by both the National and Ontario Native Women’s Associations citing the hundreds of Aboriginal women who had been victimized by these violent crimes. I also cited the litany of Canadian organizations both Aboriginal and non, and a number of international organizations including the United Nations which have been calling for a national inquiry into this disgraceful situation, the roots of which are buried in the rot of racism and poverty. The omnipotent Stephen Harper who, let’s face it, is the government of Canada has ignored all such calls for such an inquiry, but has offered the appearance of action by setting up a “Special
Parliamentary Committee on Violence against Indigenous Women” dominated by Conservative Party backbenchers.
Let me again ask the same question I did in my last column: Why are we stuck on “no”? Why is our national government, aided and abetted by a corporate media which trivializes the violence against Aboriginal women by largely ignoring it, so hell-bent on steering clear of such a national inquiry into this national disgrace? Or did I just answer my own question?
The reasons are deeply rooted in the rot of stereotypes and systemic racism too deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness of our culture. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “stereotype” as a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.
“Missing or murdered Aboriginal women? Well, what do you expect - they likely spend all or much of their hand-to-mouth lives on Seedy Street and either hook or do drugs or both to get by. They chooses the life of second class citizens – they pays the price!”
The trouble with such a wildly distorted fixation is like a parasite, the stereotype bores deeply into our collective thinking, breeds there, and after infecting becomes viral and comes to dominate our uninformed opinions of others and their problems. When the virus spreads as it must it insinuates itself into our institutions and public instruments of expression. It then deforms into something far more dangerous and enabling!
The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines systemic racism and the resulting discrimination as patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate disadvantage for racialized persons.
There is sufficient and compelling evidence to propose that these two socially corrosive and toxic attributes are at the heart of why we have come to know so little about so many for so long. That so little has been done to solve these horrendous crimes against Aboriginal women or to begin to prevent their recurrence goes far beyond disinterested police work or a distracted media.
If the year-long parliamentary committee does not conclude that poverty and powerlessness are at the rotten root of violence against Indigenous women, that far too many cases of violence are ignored and remain unsolved, that there is a need for a national inquiry and a national dialogue on this, our collective disgrace it will have abrogated its responsibility to parliament, the people of Canada and the hundreds of Aboriginal women whose voices are now silent forever. We need to shine some very bright lights into the cellars and basements under our foundations as a country, or are we too afraid of what we will find lurking in the darkness?
Do not underestimate the power and dignity behind Sharon’s conviction and determination. She will be instrumental in getting that much needed national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. We can all help her do so.
Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. He invites comments on his columns at email@example.com
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