Table Of Contents
- Violence Against Native Women
- The Elizabeth Fry Society
- The United Nations
- The Native Women’s Association of Canada
- Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission
- Oral tradition
- Residential schools
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
- Where it is
- What it is
- What you can do
Questions that came out of the doc Status Quo? The Unfinished Business of Feminism in Canada were, ‘Were aboriginal women more respected before colonization?’–The doc makes clear that today they have the double discrimination of being aboriginal and women today, but what of five hundred years ago?–If theirs is an oral history, how do we listen?–Is an official apology the end, or a start, or somewhere in between?
The Elizabeth Fry Society writes that ‘many Aboriginal communities were matriarchal or semi‐matriarchal before colonization imposed patriarchal religious, economic and political institutions upon them.’
In 2004 the United Nations, according to The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), said that ‘most First Nations reserves are no different than Third World countries.’ NWAC added, ‘In this country with resources appropriated from Indigenous traditional territories, there is no reason for Indigenous Peoples living in Canada to be in the situation that we are currently in.’ Such poverty places additional burdens on women as the primary care-givers of children and the infirm.
What’s happening in Manitoba? Manitoba has the highest proportion of Natives. In 1999 the province struck a commission to implement the recommendations of the 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry. The 2001 preliminary report of Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission (AJIC) says that, ‘regarding Aboriginal women’, there is an overall picture ‘of racism, sexism and violence.’
However, the AJIC heard of ‘the strength that Aboriginal peoples gain today from their traditional teachings and their cultures [that] comes from centuries of oral tradition and Aboriginal teachings, which emphasized the equality of man and woman and the balanced roles of both in the continuation of life. Such teachings hold promise for the future of the Aboriginal community as a whole. We have been told that more and more young Aboriginal people are turning to the beliefs and values of Aboriginal traditions to find answers for the problems which they are facing in this day and age.’
Aboriginal author Paula Gunn Allen writes of oral history’s fragility as well as its strength: ‘Since the coming of the Anglo-Europeans beginning in the fifteenth century, the fragile web of identity that long held tribal people secure has gradually been weakened and torn. But the oral tradition has prevented the complete destruction of the web, the ultimate disruption of tribal ways. The oral tradition is vital: it heals itself and the tribal web by adapting to the flow of the present while never relinquishing its connection to the past.’ (Paula Gunn Allen, Sacred Hoop: Restoring the Feminine to Native American Tradition [Boston: Beacon Press, 1986], p. 45, quoted in the 2001 preliminary report of Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission.)
Native spirituality was seen by the Europeans as pagan and was myopically suppressed. The AJIC report points out that ‘women figured centrally in almost all Aboriginal creation legends. In Ojibway and Cree legends, it was a woman who came to earth through a hole in the sky to care for the earth. It was a woman, Nokomis (grandmother), who taught Original Man (Anishinabe, an Ojibway word meaning “human being”) about the medicines of the earth and about technology. When a traditional Ojibway person prays, thanks is given and the pipe is raised in each of the four directions, then to Mother Earth as well as to Grandfather, Mishomis, in the sky. To the Ojibway, the earth is woman, the Mother of the people, and her hair, the sweetgrass (pictured), is braided and used in ceremonies.’
The residential schools are a ‘black mark’ on Canada in the twentieth century. Generations were adversely affected, and it may take generations of healing–an official apology is only a step in the journey–to restore the health of Native peoples. ‘The damage done by residential schools is evident today as Aboriginal people, long deprived of parenting skills, struggle with family responsibilities and attempt to recapture cultural practices and beliefs so long denied. Grand Chief Dave Courchene Sr. put the experience succinctly: “Residential schools taught self-hate. That is child abuse…. Too many of our people got the message and passed it on. It is their younger generations that appear before you [in court].” We [the AJIC] believe the breakdown of Aboriginal cultural values and the abuse suffered by Aboriginal children in the schools contributed to family breakdown. This began a cycle of abuse in Aboriginal communities, with women and children being the primary victims.’
Emma LaRocque, a Metis woman and professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, wrote to the Inquiry in 1990 that ‘the portrayal of the squaw is one of the most degraded, most despised and most dehumanized anywhere in the world…. I believe that there is a direct relationship between these horrible racist/sexist stereotypes and violence against Native women and girls. I believe, for example, that Helen Betty Osborne was murdered in 1972 by four young men from The Pas because these youths grew up with twisted notions of “Indian girls” as “squaws”.’ (Emma LaRocque, written presentation to Aboriginal Justice Inquiry hearings, 5 February 1990, quoted in the 2001 preliminary report of Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission.)
More recently, genre-bending hip-hop/electronic/aboriginal artists A Tribe Called Red, finalists for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize, has asked concert-goers to stop wearing war paint and feather bonnets. Meanwhile in August, 2013, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights examined the murders and disappearances of indigenous women in British Columbia. ‘This visit is an important step toward accountability for decades of murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls in British Columbia,’ said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. Referring to the Canadian government, Rhoad said, ‘the half measures it has adopted are no substitute for a national commission of inquiry into the ongoing violence’. The NWAC ‘is stupefied that Canada is rejecting calls from the UN Human Rights Council for Canada to develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against Aboriginal women.’
Racism in Canada runs deep. International treaty bodies have reviewed our compliance with human rights obligations and ‘have consistently urged Canada to: 1) address, on an urgent basis, the extreme violence against Aboriginal women and girls and the disappearances and murders; and, 2) develop strategic plans to deal with their social and economic disadvantages,’ says the NWAC. ‘The failure of piecemeal and partial approaches points to the greater need for action at the national and international level–and lends credence to a national public inquiry,’ states its interim president, Dr. Dawn Harvard.
The Commission heard testimony of the loss of oral history, the break-up of families as children were sent off to residential schools, the demonization of spirituality, and the poor portrayal of Native women in the popular media, all contributing to violence and incarceration. It wrote that ‘as the victims of childhood sexual abuse and adult domestic violence, [women] have borne the brunt of the breakdown of social controls within Aboriginal societies. There was substantial support for an entirely new system, to break the cycle of abuse and to restore Aboriginal methods of healing designed to return balance to the community, rather than punish the offender.’ These include:
- models of holistic healing
- positions of responsibility in the justice system
- aboriginal child welfare workers
- positions in the legal system in aboriginal communities
- enforceable employment equity plans
- a resumption of traditional roles
‘The immediate need is for Aboriginal women to begin to heal from the decades of denigration they have experienced. But the ultimate objective is to encourage and assist Aboriginal women to regain and occupy their rightful place as equal partners in Aboriginal society.’
- Educate yourself
- Vote for people, parties, and platforms whether municipal or federal or in between that have a proven pro-safety track record
- Act now–volunteer your time, donate your gifts, give locally, provincially, federally, or globally
where it is–Thousands of miles from the nearest continent, north of Hawaii, near Midway Island, lies the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s huge, the size of Texas, maybe bigger. Predicted in 1988, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (pictured, in the convergence zone) was discovered by Captain Charles Moore in 1997 while coming home from an America-to-Japan sailing race. Wind and water currents form a huge gyre, whose ‘rotational pattern draws in waste material from across the North Pacific Ocean, including coastal waters off North America and Japan. As material is captured in the currents, wind-driven surface currents gradually move floating debris toward the center, trapping it in the region.’
what it is–Some of the larger floating debris, like abandoned nets and plastic storage tanks, become mid-ocean homes, bringing invasive species from afar. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is filled with plastic, some of it large and visible, but most of it small, almost microscopic. Most plastic does not break down. It lasts forever, including the coffee stirrer that you used only for a few seconds. Most plastic just breaks apart and gets smaller and smaller. Ingestible by plankton, the plastic enters the food chain and bio-accumulates. Plankton eat the plastic, fish eat the plankton, we eat the fish. In other words, we eat our own garbage. And not just us, but all life, including huge whales and remote seabirds, like albatross. But whether large or small, plastics also trap toxic pollutants. It is estimated that 80% of the floating debris comes from land.
- Educate yourself–watch this 25-minute doc from The Water Brothers, for starters
- Reduce the plastic in your life, especially over-packaged and under-used consumer items–and I’m not talking about just the big-ticket items, like TVs and car interiors, but daily things too, like grocery items and coffee lids. Here are some suggestions:
- You vote when you buy–don’t buy plastic, if you can. Vote for people, parties, and platforms municipally, provincially, and federally that understand the problems with plastic. Afterwards, write your elected representative.