We require the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt to walk gently—be careful—when he speaks about missing and murdered Aboriginal women in future. We have been offended by his comments to the Ottawa Citizen Newspaper in speaking about an inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women, violence against Aboriginal women in First Nations communities and his perception that Aboriginal men, generally, have a lack of respect for women in First Nations communities. We need him to be very careful. He is treading on very thin ice.
On Dec. 12, the minister made some very disturbing statements about our communities across the country; ludicrous, over-generalized statements that are flawed on many levels. These are not issues to toy with, Minister Valcourt. They are not issues to gain political partisan advantage for the upcoming election. They require sensitivity and compassionate treatment regardless of what you believe the path forward is to improve the situation for Aboriginal women on reserve, whether you believe an inquiry is necessary or not.
“Obviously, there’s a lack of respect for women and girls on reserve, obviously,” the minister said in a video for the Citizen’s website. “But, do you blame the community for letting this go, when, for example, on a marriage break-down or the death of somebody, a couple, you know, that the woman has no rights. The Canadian woman, the non-Aboriginal one, is fully protected, she can seek a protection order, but on reserve, no. So, if the guys grow up believing that women have no rights, that’s how they’re treated.
“Well, we’ve changed that. We’ve brought the (Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act) to change that. This will have fundamental, transformational change… not overnight, but over the longer term. You know, the human rights, I think, for example, and other changes that we brought forward, which will have impact in the longer and mid-terms so, you know, they’ll realize that women and girls have rights too. They are persons that must be respected.”
We object to Minister Valcourt wagging his finger at us. Aboriginal men have not cornered the market on misogyny. Despite his Utopian perspective on the situation of non-Aboriginal women, we know very clearly that many communities, Aboriginal and not, are struggling with sexualized violence toward women. We cite the Dalhousie University Dentistry Gentleman’s Facebook page where male college students disparage their female classmates and talk of hate f-cking them, a disgusting phrase that we heard also through reports on the Jian Ghomeshi situation at the CBC.
In December, a Vancouver radio station had to apologize to listeners for a statement made by one of its hosts when talking about whether Liberal leader Justin Trudeau would like to fuck, kill or marry Health Minister Rona Ambrose, Laureen Harper, the Prime Minister’s wife, or Michaelle Jean, the former governor general.
Violence against women is not an Aboriginal issue alone, and not isolated to reserves, and not isolated to Aboriginal men. Obviously, obviously.
It would be disingenuous to not acknowledge that misogyny exists in our communities. We are not suggesting that violence against Aboriginal women is not amplified on reserve, but it is not rooted in the race and that’s what Minister Valcourt seems to be suggesting.
That First Nations have been purposely, through government legislation and policy over the generations since contact, through residential schools and the child welfare system, distanced and detached from their traditional teachings and values and family and culture, has to receive some acknowledgment from the minister. There should be agreement among us that these abuses left marks on individuals and families.
In arguing against a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, Valcourt tells the Citizen not to tell Canada to spin its wheels for years over an inquiry to get the understanding and knowledge that we already have today. That he believes government legislation, like the Matrimonial Interests Act, is a panacea to raise Aboriginal men out of the mire demonstrates a total lack of understanding, or a consciously-twisted up view of the situation before us, and is, in fact, an argument in favor of an inquiry.
But Valcourt puts the entire responsibility for violence against Aboriginal women at the door of First Nations communities and men, and holds the historical mistreatment of Aboriginal peoples by government at arms-length. No, Mr. Minister, you can’t get away from this legacy. Your hands can not be washed clean of decades upon decades of neglect and misuse of Indigenous people. Canada has contributed greatly to this situation so Canada must come to the table to restore what has been lost and that starts with a clear airing. So you’ve been told, minister. Choose your words more wisely.