(Editor’s note: This week APTN is presenting guest columns on missing and murdered Indigenous women. Wednesday is Mohawk activist Shawn Brant.)
By Shawn Brant
Special to APTN National News
The recent abduction and murder of Tina Fontaine should have been a game changer, but our response to the tragedy was as predictable as the certainty of her death.
In the desperation that followed, we organized and attended vigils.
This forum and traditional response, admittedly provides some comfort for the family and allows for renewed calls for a much deserved and necessary national inquiry, but nothing more.
We knew in our hearts that the death of this 15-year-old was somehow different than the 1,200 women and girls who died before her, and for a brief moment, we almost dared to believe that an inquiry would be somehow forthcoming even though it had been denied dozens of times before.
That hope was quickly muted when the Prime Minister’s Office repeated its weary talking points suggesting that they had ample information collected from the past 20 years and regurgitated the announcement of a promised a DNA database that could be used to identify a woman’s remains, once they had been found.
No one stepped forward to challenge the Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s statements or his claims of representing the “government of action” on this issue, and no one challenged Harper’s claims that he has had in his possession, for this entire time, “all the information” he needs to fix the problem.
Logically, if we are to accept the Harper’s claims of having all the answers then the government of Canada must also accept responsibility for the hundreds of deaths of Indigenous women and girls during its nine years in power and its failure to take any decisive action during that time.
Weeks have now passed and the memory of Tina Fontaine, like all the others, has faded, but what is noteworthy and perhaps a contributing factor of the return to status quo is absence of determination, within our own leadership, to press this government for a political solution.
Just three weeks prior to the recovery of Tina’s body from the ironically named Red River, the chiefs had reported that there could be “blockades” in response to the Transparency Act legislation implemented by government and compelling chiefs and councils to disclose their salaries.
Blockades, it seems, were an appropriate response to prevent public scrutiny of chiefs’ expenses, but there was no mention or even suggestion of blockades for Tina Fontaine.
White people believe, and it’s probably true, that we set up blockades for everything.
A land issue? Set up a blockade.
Forestry and resources – blockade.
Rainy day – blockade.
Water/housing/taxes – blockade/blockade/blockade.
Nearly 1,200 dead Indigenous women and girls? … .
It is a historical fact that, for the past 25 years, the Mohawk community of Tyendinaga has answered every call for action. We have targeted attacks against Canada’s critical infrastructure, road and rail blockades, border crossing closures, economic disruptions and numerous days of action. Blockades and campaigns of economic disruption are effective ways to express our anger when our “sovereign rights” are threatened.
For two decades we have waited for the Stolen Sisters issue to emerge to the forefront of societies consciousness because we believe that it has the qualities to encompass all our differences including cultural and geographical diversity that exist within our First Nations communities.
We believe that the killing of our women and girls is the issue that transcends all barriers and serves as the foundation for a unified people capable of fighting and defeating an obstinate Canadian state.
We believe that standing for this issue demonstrates the core values and principles of our people, however, we equally believe that inaction or perceived indifference can subject us to ridicule and suggestions of hypocrisy.
It is a joke to profess that we are protectors of Mother Earth when we cannot protect the very mothers who give us life, and now, it is absolutely inconceivable to think that we could stand for any other issue when our daughters cannot freely walk down a street, without the risk of abduction, rape, torture and murder.
In February of this year, our Mohawk community of Tyendinaga, served notice on Harper that we were prepared to take action to secure a national inquiry.
Our battle strategy was based on the real belief that others would step forward to join us in taking decisive action and to seek justice for the families of the fallen. After seven days on the lines, two CN Rail shutdowns, an injured cop, smashed police vehicles and numerous arrests, it was painfully apparent that we were on our own.
Since that time, Loretta Saunders, an Indigenous woman and her unborn baby were killed and dumped along a New Brunswick highway, another woman had her legs amputated and half of her face cut off because she was an indigenous woman, and of course and most recently, Tina Fontaine, who was murdered simply because she was an Indigenous girl.
These women made tremendous sacrifices to the cause of awareness and the plight of First Nations women in this country and they should not be so easily dismissed.
They serve as missed opportunities in the advancement of our social standing and the development of a real relationship with the rest of Canada.
As certain as I was about the imminent death of Tina Fontaine, I am equally certain that another will soon be added to the growing numbers and we will be afforded another opportunity to do the right thing.
Regrettably and irrespective of our courage and commitment, as one community we are unable to resolve this issue on our own. We stood ready for justice in the spring of this year and we stand ready now, for the guidance, genuine leadership and the willingness to end this human tragedy.