Reflections on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women by Sharon O’Brien, December 2015
Sharon O’Brien, director of the PEI Mi’kmaq Family Resource Centre, was the guest speaker at the Charlottetown 2015 Montreal Massacre Memorial Service. Sharon spoke about the crisis in missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada and what that crisis means not only for Aboriginal women but for all Prince Edward Islanders and all Canadians.
Transcript below or watch the video: Reflections on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women
Today we remember, honor and mourn the lives of women whose futures have been stolen, from us, from their families and their loved ones.
Over 1200 of our Aboriginal sisters are missing or have been murdered. And while we continue to grieve their loss we are left wondering how we as a society can continue to let this happen. This is not just an Aboriginal issue, it is a Canadian issue.
None of us will ever forget the media reports recounting the horrors of the Pickton farm where of the 33 DNA sample found, 11 were Aboriginal, and many of us have been shocked that 30 Aboriginal women had their lives end on the Highway of Tears in British Columbia. More recently we heard of Rinelle Harper, a 16 year old girl who survived a savage assault and near drowning in the Red River in Winnipeg and Tina Fontaine, 15, who didn’t.
The violence inflicted on Aboriginal women is often rooted in the deep socio economic inequalities and discrimination their communities face and which can be traced back to colonization and residential schools.
They speak of a generational history of sexual abuse and assault, family violence and addictions.
Then they speak of being afraid of police, of not being believed and of police behavior and bias. Government and police must look seriously at what they can do right now to set a new path in terms of relationships with Aboriginal women and girls.
Former Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo said “We cannot accept violence against or among our peoples. We owe it to the families who’ve lost loved ones and to our children and the future generations to achieve safe and secure communities for our children to learn, grow and thrive.”
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has said that Canada has violated the rights of indigenous women by failing to thoroughly investigate why they are targeted for violence. They joined with many others including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in calling for a national enquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. The report stated that the police and the justice system have failed to effectively protect Aboriginal women and that they face grave and systematic violations of their rights. Thankfully, in making the need for a public enquiry, an election issue, we have been able to obtain a commitment and hope that the voices of our women and community members will be heard.
We as Aboriginal people have a responsibility as well. We know the environments that exist for our women and children and we must fight to make systemic changes so that wrongs can be righted. We as Aboriginal women are 4 times more likely to be murdered than non Aboriginal women and more recently the Globe and Mail reported that figure to be a high as 7 times more likely to be murdered. Most people don’t know that there is a First Nations Act that provides for Emergency Protection Orders to be available for those living on Reserve. However the EPO’s can only be issued if the Province designates a judge to issue them. While most, if not all other provinces have done this, PEI hasn’t, so those women needing protection on reserve are not able to access the EPO provisions. The bands, the province and our justice system have known for years this lack of protection for our women exists but have failed to act on it. Our women deserve the same right to protection as every other woman in Canada.
We are not disposable, we are not collateral damage and we are not to be ignored. We are strong women who have a strength of spirit that has sustained us for many generations.
So remember the women I speak of today, murdered or missing. They were someone’s daughter, mother, friend, or relative. They were our sisters, beautiful spirits, young and old, tarnished and shining bright. They were once someone’s child, cradled, loved and protected for a short time by their mother. Mother Earth cradles and protects them now and they live on in the memories and stories of our people.