“Say Their Names”–Abused Women of Color Seek Justice Across North America


n Dec. 8, Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the start of a process leading to an inquiry on the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls across the country. The decision was a long time coming, as the previous Conservative government refused to call for any federal investigation – claiming the disappearances and deaths amounted a “police issue” rather than a human rights abomination.

Meanwhile, the Canadian federal police, or RCMP, insisted for years that the vast majority of murdered women were killed by their spouses or other family members. But the claim was shown to be false in a recent investigation by the Toronto Star. The newspaper’s investigative team reviewed more than 750 murder cases, some dating back to the 1960s – 224 of which remain unsolved – and found that 44% of victims were killed by acquaintances, strangers and serial killers.

The statistics, covering a 32-year period, reveal that more than 1,200 indigenous women have either been murdered or gone missing. Though First Nations women make up just 4 percent of Canada’s female population, 16 percent of women murdered in the country between 1980 and 2012 were indigenous. The Trudeau government’s announcement came as a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was ending its investigation into yet another tragic chapter of the First Nations community: abuse at Christian residential schools.

As explained in the capital’s newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen, “Beginning in the 1880s, more than 150,000 aboriginal children were torn from their families and sent to the schools. They were poorly fed, housed in badly constructed buildings that were often described as fire-traps, and neglected when their health deteriorated..” The last of these schools – which were run by various churches in the interest of “assimilating” native people – was closed in 1996, but the scars left by this history of abuse will likely take generations to heal.

A recent case in Val D’or, a remote mining community of Quebec, showed that while there is hope for conditions changing in the future, in many ways life remains the same for native people. In that instance, eight police officers from the provincial police force have been suspended and stand accused of numerous assaults and abuses of power against aboriginal women in the community.The national French-language broadcaster, Radio Canada, was investigating the disappearance of a native woman named Sindy Ruperthouse when it discovered the many allegations against the officers in Val D’or – demonstrating once again to the Canadian public that the crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women is ongoing and systemic.

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