Canadian indigenous women are being ignored, even by an inquiry set up to investigate an epidemic of violence against them
his week I am in Montreal, Canada, to meet with feminists that work to end male violence towards women and girls. I love this country for its brave and vibrant women’s liberation movement, and the indigenous feminist activists from which I have learned so much about the intersections between colonisation, poverty and misogyny.
In 2005, I wrote about a terrible case of Robert Pickton, a serial killer who picked up mainly prostituted indigenous women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of the most impoverished areas in North America. It took police almost 20 years from the time the missing women’s loved ones began to report the disappearances to track down Pickton, and another three years for them to gather evidence for the trial. Eighteen years after the first woman disappeared, in 2001, police finally launched the Missing Women Task Force. But still, age-old racism and sexism collided to bring about the kind of inertia over mass murders of women that led some police to mark the files of murder victims with NHI (No Human Involved).
Across Canada, an inquiry into the murdered and missing indigenous women was established, following years of campaigning by feminists and allies. In the two years that the inquiry has been taking place, feminist voices have been quashed. Cherry Smiley, the indigenous activist and artist I first met when researching my book on the sex trade, puts it this way:
“The national inquiry is not the inquiry that so many indigenous women fought for for so long. The inquiry we have today is unfortunately a reflection of modern depoliticised ‘politics’ that promote ideas of inclusivity and grief at the expense of focused political goals and action. That the inquiry’s foundation puts indigenous peoples and families before women in our own inquiry speaks volumes to the reach of the anti-feminist, woman-hating culture we live in today.”