Canada's Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women: A Shameful Indifference
Indigenous women are far more likely likely to die from violence than other women in Canada. Over the years many indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered without the perpetrators being brought to justice. Audrey Huntley, who is of mixed indigenous and settler ancestry, is a co-founder of the coalition group No More Silence which addresses the injustice and impunity surrounding the murders and disappearances. In an interview with AWID, she shed light on the situation.
By Kathambi Kinoti
AWID:How did you get started in your work to end the silence around murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada?
AUDREY HUNTLEY: I first became aware of this issue when living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the late 90s. Over 65 women, many Indigenous have gone missing or been killed in this neighborhood. It is Canada's poorest neighbourhood and home to many Indigenous people.
AWID: Why have so many indigenous women been murdered or gone missing over the past decades?
AH: Violence against Indigenous women has always been part and parcel of colonization. In fact in times of early settlement women were targeted and killed in order to break the resistance of entire communities. Today Indigenous women's bodies continue to be seen as rapable and acts of violence are met with impunity. Some scholars have asserted that killing Indigenous women functions in part to constitute the white settler man's identity as he conquers and reconquers land and his claim to being here in this way.
AWID: Do you have an estimate of the numbers of these women?
AH: The Native Women's Association has compiled about 520 names of women who have gone missing or been murdered predominantly in the last 20 years. It is difficult to know how many women have actually been disappeared as police do not record ethnic origin.
AWID: You have made a film on the subject which featured among other places, at last year's AWID Forum. How was that experience?
AH: Making the documentary Go Home, Baby Girl was an incredibly intense and emotional experience. I was in close contact with Norma George's family members for over a year. I revisited Norma's neighbourhood in Vancouver's downtown eastside, and spoke to childhood friends and acquaintances up to the time of her disappearance. Norma had been gone for over 13 years and yet the family had no closure and was extremely traumatized by the racism and indifference they had experienced on the part of authorities. Making the documentary did however result in some closure for the family both on a personal level and with regards to her case as well as give validation to many more whose stories paralleled Norma's.
AWID:Please tell us a little bit about the No More Silence Coalition and how you are working to end the impunity surrounding the missing and murdered women.
AH: In No More Silence allies and indigenous women work together to raise awareness around the disappearances and to put forward a systemic analysis of the violence. We want people to understand that the violence and racism are inherent and we need fundamental systemic change. We are looking for ways to decolonize hearts, minds and land as the path towards ending the oppression of Indigenous women.
AWID: Have there been successes in resolving some of the cases?
AH: While No More Silence has chosen not to work with police or state, our work in at least one case has caused a file to be reopened upon the family's request. Unfortunately, I can't think of a single example of a missing woman having been found alive and well due to efforts by the authorities.
AWID: What are some of the ongoing challenges that you face in this work?
AH: A huge challenge in doing this work is the vicarious and existing trauma that surrounds the murders. We pay a lot of attention to self care and creating an atmosphere of kindness in our meetings. This includes checking in with all present as well as sharing food.
AWID: What are the next steps in the work to end the impunity?
AH: I don't see impunity ending with the current framework of relations between the Canadian settler state and indigenous people however many
advocates are working to pressure police to treat these cases with the respect and attention they deserve. For example in Manitoba where a 17 year old Indigenous woman was found last week there are an estimated 75 women missing. Advocates are calling for the creation of an investigative task force with the necessary resources to find these women. More importantly I think are the root causes - poverty and racism. I think we need to create a situation in our home communities, which are often impoverished and ridden with violence, where women are safe and are not forced to leave for urban centres where they are incredibly vulnerable. Cities too need to create safe and affordable housing, employment opportunities and the means for Indigenous women to live lives that do not place them in danger. Society has to be called on its indifference. Men kill Indigenous women because they know there will be little or no press, police action or trial. All of this has to change.