TIMELINE: Breaking down the debate on the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada

An aboriginal lawyer is calling out the government for not taking action on more than 100 missing and murdered indigenous women, while the deaths of two officers spurred legislative change.

Pam Palmater, a member of the Mi’kmaq First Nations in New Brunswick is questioning why the deaths of two state officers can spur legislative change while the cases of more than 1,000 missing and murdered indigenous women have not warranted any action from the Canadian government.

Palmater is referring to an anti-terrorism bill tabled by the federal government which has also struck down many requests from First Nations groups for a national inquiry into the Aboriginal women’s cases. At a panel discussion held at the University of Toronto, she accused the government’s refusal to act on on the crisis as being “a conscious choice.”

“It’s criminal,” she said. “A national inquiry might shed light on these dark places but we can have an emergency action plan right now with no change in legislation and no constitutional debate.”

Parliament has made a resolution to continue to increase awareness about the issues related to the missing indigenous women, but no commitment to a national inquiry has been made.

The Ryersonian has gathered the commentary of some of the leading voices calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. We have also tracked a history of reports leading up to last month’s roundtable debate in Ottawa, consolidated expert opinions on the role of government and solutions to the crisis.


Role of federal government

Despite the demands for a federally-funded inquiry relating to the missing and murdered Aboriginal women, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has responded with comments such as, “It isn’t high on our radar, to be honest.”

Last fall, the government announced a $25 million budget to improve safety for Aboriginal women and girls. The money was earmarked for 2015 and 2020.

However, many First Nations communities have criticized the measure, preferring to provide aid on their own.

“The days of saying the federal government should save us are long over,” Palmeter said at the U of T discussion last week. “All of it should not be up to the state. But it starts at the top with accountability.”

A national inquiry commissioned by the government would also change the dialogue, said panelist Christa Big Canoe, legal advocacy director at the Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto.

“It would call to the level of gravity of the situation and having the federal government acknowledge the missing and murdered indigenous women changes the rhetoric,” she said.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada, Sisters in Spirit Initiative recommended in a report  “that a yearly forum be held to inform and educate Canadians” on the prevalence of violence against Aboriginal women.

Below, Watch video of the panelists discussing how a national inquiry can be constructed and what government and citizens can do to solve the crisis.
Recognition and Reconciliation

“The death of two state actors led to legislative change (Bill C-51) but 1,200 missing and murdered women and girls can’t compel the political will.” — Palmater

“Police need to readdress issues of colonialism and racism…we can;t not include racism of why people died.” — Eberts

“To call it a failure to police or failure of government is generous. This is not a failure. It’s a purposeful conscious refusal to act. ” — Palmater


Recommendations for National Inquiry

Any inquiry has to take a multijurisdictional approach and take indigenous perspectives into account.” — Canoe

“It (national inquiry) has to be led by and for the survivors, for the women who live it every day. And it has to take into account indigenous beliefs of the dead.” — Canoe

“We don’t need a new solution, we just have to go back to the foundation of what is Canada.” — Palmeter


Justice and Activism

“There needs to be an increase access to justice and understanding.” — Canoe

“Understanding the legal system and the wall that exists helps articulate the issues.” — Canoe

“If it weren’t for the grassroots activism in this neighbourhood, we wouldn’t have this panel. It takes a long time to build a movement before it takes to the media and mainstream.” — Palmeter

“Every canadian should be careful and listen to the rhetoric, instead of buying into the media hype.”– Canoe

“Basic thing is to keep talking about it. If you tell one person about the missing indigenous women, that’s one more person who knows.” — Canoe


700 Calls to action: A timeline  


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