7 March 2014
ABORIGINAL JUSTICE: Listening for the voices of missing and murdered Indigenous
by Carrie Peters
According to reports by the Native Women’s Association of Canada
(NWAC), there are roughly 600 known cases of missing and murdered Indigenous
women in Canada, many of them unsolved.*
Loretta Saunders, an Inuit woman from Labrador whose family reported her
missing on 13 February 2014, is one of the latest. The RCMP discovered her body along a New Brunswick highway
on 26 February. That Saunders was
in the middle of finishing her PhD in Halifax— on Canada’s missing and murdered
Indigenous women—makes her death particularly harrowing, yet each of these
women’s deaths is reprehensible.
CPT attended the ninth Annual Strawberry Ceremony honoring
missing and murdered Indigenous women on 14 February, when over 200 people
gathered at the downtown Toronto police headquarters for a rally and march. Many individuals in the crowd held up
signs bearing names, dates, and occasionally photos. Several dozen people carried black silhouette-style signs
cut in the shape of women’s profiles, with names in white lettering on one
side, and dates—usually preceded with the word “murdered”—on the other.
Each of these sign bearers had lost someone to violence: a
sister, a daughter, a grandmother.
More than that, though, this ceremony was in honor of Indigenous women. Those marching were survivors of their
individual griefs and losses, and the
collective oppression and violence of a system set entirely against them.
Author and activist Arundhati Roy has said, “There’s
really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’
There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably
unheard.” In CPT, we often
talk about “amplifying voices,” and when I give presentations I make
sure to emphasize what this means: I am not seeking to speak for anyone. I am seeking to hold up a figurative
microphone to those who are already speaking. It’s a thing I’m still figuring out, time after time. But Roy’s words are a guide.
During the ceremony on 14 February, the women who spoke
described how long it took them to “find their voices,” to share the
stories of women in their lives who’d been taken by violence. One mother who raised her grandson from
his infancy, said it took her over two decades from when her daughter was
killed to when she could start speaking about it. It struck me that every single person there holding a sign
or a banner was a person who could speak.
The voiceless ones were the women whose names and dates were on those
signs. Their daughters, and
mothers, and sisters, and brothers and fathers and sons (because there were
many men there too)—these relatives were all speaking for them.
The question is, are we listening? When several NDP Senators introduced the need for an inquiry
to Parliament about missing and
murdered Indigenous women in late February, Status of Women Minister Kellie
Leitch responded by turning the call into a partisan argument, and stated that,
“Our government has taken action. I encourage the opposition to join us in that action.”
Such statements, at their root, only demonstrate a desire to
dismiss and delegitimize Indigenous women’s voices. If the Harper administration was earnest in its professed
concern for Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women, it would not turn
calls for a national inquiry into partisan finger-pointing, but initiate real,
measurable action to end this tragedy now.
*A new database now lists the number of missing & murdered Indigenous women at 824.