The federal government has balked at the push to secure a commitment of a national inquiry into murdered and missing women, and the chance to learn more about the violence that surrounds Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. But the United Nations is tackling the issue head on.
“This year, our new topic is murdered and missing Aboriginal women. It is our upcoming assignment and we will be looking at it globally,” said Chief Wilton Littlechild, who was recently appointed president/rapporteur to the UN’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He has served on EMRIP since 2011.
EMRIP, which meets in Geneva, provides the UN Human Rights Council with thematic advice in the form of studies and research on the rights of Indigenous peoples. Last year, EMRIP presented recommendations on four “very important agenda issues,” said Littlechild: The planning of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples; the rights of Indigenous people to participate in decision-making; the role of languages and culture in the promotion and protection of the rights and identity of Indigenous peoples; and the undertaking of a questionnaire to seek the views of the UN members on best practices regarding possible appropriate measures and implementation strategies to attain the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Expert witnesses will be called on to look into the barriers Aboriginal women face in the justice system, from investigations to the courts to incarceration.
“These issues I’m familiar with (nationally and) I can deal with from a global perspective,” Littlechild said.
He emphasizes that his focus will be on more than what is happening in Canada. Littlechild, who also serves as commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, will hear from expert witnesses ranging from Indigenous peoples to academics in his coverage area of North America, western Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
EMRIP will make recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council based on the information it gathers.
But the Canadian government isn’t looking for similar guidance from its Aboriginal groups.
An appeal by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo to premiers and territorial leaders at the recent Council of the Federation meeting did not result in support for a national inquiry into violence against Aboriginal women and girls.
In July, the AFN passed a resolution calling for the RCMP to “establish a National Integrated RCMP and Police Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in order to coordinate the several specific initiatives being carried out between the RCMP, other police services, First Nations and government officials, including those in Vancouver, the “Highway of Tears” in northern British Columbia, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Whitehorse.”
The Chiefs-in-Assembly resolved to “make a personal and public declaration to take full responsibility to be violence free and commit to taking all actions available to them to uphold and ensure the rights of Indigenous women and girls.”
The AFN’s resolution was welcomed by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the only national organization with a team working to raise awareness and do research on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. NWAC said the AFN’s resolution “goes further than most” as it also directs the AFN to convene a national forum and Special Chiefs Assembly on Justice and Community Safety in 2012/2013 and to collaborate with NWAC to include a focus on murdered and missing women and girls.
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, as well as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, have added their voices to the call for a national inquiry focusing on the reasons why Aboriginal women fall victim to violent crimes at such an alarming rate.
“All of our regions in Canada, I believe, are saying this is an epidemic. We can’t wait until the next person goes missing to raise the issue again. So we think a national inquiry is what should happen, because at the end of the day, there are just too many missing Aboriginal women and in particular First Nations. Until we do something about it, nothing will happen (and) the cycle will continue,” said FSIN Vice-Chief Morley Watson.
In 2009, close to 67,000 Aboriginal women ages 15 and older reported being the victim of violence in the previous 12 months, according to a report released in 2011by Statistics Canada. Overall, the rate of self-reported violent victimization among Aboriginal women was almost three times higher than the rate of violent victimization reported by non-Aboriginal women.
Lack of governments’ support for a national inquiry does not surprise Watson, who says that if “it’s their daughter missing or their mother, I’m sure they would share a different view. We always have to wait until it happens to someone else, then we have to start the process all over again.”
Photo caption: NWAC’s “Faceless Doll Project:” A collection of faceless felt dolls that will be used to create a traveling art exhibit in memory of the more than 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.”
Photo: Courtesy NWAC