There has been a war against Indigenous women since colonization: former NWAC president

Jacobs says a Royal Commission is needed on missing and murdered Indigenous women.

(Editor’s note: This week APTN National News will be presenting guest columns on missing and murdered Indigenous women. Today is Beverley Jacobs, the former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.)

By Beverley Jacobs
Special to APTN National News
I wrote a blog last year about decolonizing the violence against Indigenous women and one of the things I said in that article is that we have to change the way that we talk about violence. 

We have to change our language about moving beyond “being a victim”, as Indigenous peoples, as Indigenous women.

Indigenous women need peaceful relations – peaceful relations with colonial governments; peaceful relations with Indigenous governments; peaceful relations with white society; peaceful relations with white men;  peaceful relations with white women; peaceful relations with Indigenous men; peaceful relations with other Indigenous women. 

We had this at one time. 

It was called the Kuswentah; peaceful relationships established along a River of Life. 

So what happened to these peaceful relationships where it has now become so violent in all of society, not just in Indigenous communities, but in ALL communities, in ALL societies? 

There has been a war against Indigenous women since colonization and it is now time for Indigenous women to take their rightful place in society, whether it takes place in their own communities or in urban centres.

There are many ways to address this societal issue. Amnesty International, in its Stolen Sister’s report released in 2004 and which I was a consultant and lead researcher to this report, recommended a National Action Plan to address the racialized and sexualized violence against Indigenous women. 

As former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and since 2004, NWAC has been pushing for a national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Michele Audette, current president of NWAC, watered this down recently at a meeting with the premiers by talking about a “roundtable”. 

The Walk4Justice group who have been walking across Canada to bring attention to the issue of MMIW has been asking for a symposium to address the issue for many years and they want justice now. The Memorial March committee from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has been trying to bring attention to this issue for the last 20-30 years.

Families of Sisters in Spirit and many of the advocates and activists who are assisting families of MMIW across the country want answers now too. Many Indigenous women in various communities across the country are taking action with little resources that they do have. Finally, in the last couple of months the national media has been bringing attention to the issue.  And we do know that action is needed…NOW…IMMEDIATELY. 

So what is stopping all of us, as human beings, to act? What is stopping each one of us to take responsibility and address it now? Does each one of us know how to do that? Are we taking action? 

Do we really know what actions are needed?

I believe that all of these answers can be dealt with by taking a bigger broader scope to the issues and addressing all types of violence against Indigenous women and once we have this discussion, we know that it will also include violence against Indigenous men. I believe that there has to be a stronger vision to have a Royal Commission to address violence against Indigenous women, which will include all of these issues related to all types of violence and specifically the racialized and sexualized violence against Indigenous women leading to the high rates of MMIW. 

While coaching the Kawaskimhon Aboriginal Moot in 2011, (which takes place every year at a law school in Canada) the topic selected was the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada and I had directed the law students at the University of Calgary (who was representing the Battered Women’s Support Services, one of the frontline organizations to assist victims of violence in Vancouver) to research and present on a Royal Commission to Address Violence Against Indigenous Women. 

They did an excellent job and in fact, the executive director, Angela McDougall of BWSS, presented this idea to the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and a resolution was passed in 2012 to do such a thing. 

Somehow, it became termed as a National Inquiry by the Assembly of First Nations. 

I was, during that time, representing the Union of BC Indian Chiefs at the BC Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, which was described as “deeply flawed and an illegitimate process” and that this commission had “lost all credibility among Aboriginal, sex work, human rights and women’s organizations that work with and are comprised of the very women most affected by the issues” that the Inquiry was charged with investigating. 

In order for a Royal Commission to work it must be legitimate and led by those with credibility.

It must contribute to the truth, reconciliation and accountability specifically related to having peaceful relations with Indigenous women. 

These issues, specific to the war against Indigenous women, have not been addressed thoroughly in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People or in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The process must be inherently safe for victims of the violence and the families of the MMIW. 

We do know that there are various issues that need to be addressed both in Indigenous communities and in urban centres. When I am talking about racialized and sexualized violence, I am talking about two different issues but totally related to white male violence. 

Colonization and serial killers are white male violence and they have both targeted Indigenous women. Colonization and its impacts are the roots of violence in Indigenous communities. In order to get to the root of the violence, it can no longer be silenced or pushed aside like it never existed. 

In order to deal with the present national crisis and epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and MMIW, we have to talk about the genocidal and violent processes that tried to erase us as a people because who did they attack first? 

They attacked Indigenous women. 

This is not taught in the current education system and this is also the reason why “society” does not understand all of the historical pieces to these issues. A royal commission will assist in educating the public about all of these issues and when Canada is willing to step up to the plate to ready take responsibility of its actions, then we will know there is truth, reconciliation and accountability. 

Then we will actually see the actions and changes that are needed in our societies. 

Then we will have peaceful relations.

Beverley Jacobs is currently in her  last year of an interdisciplinary PhD at the University of Calgary that includes Law, Indigenous Wholistic Health and Indigenous Research Methodologies. The title of Jacobs thesis is “Impacts of Industrial Development on the Wholistic Health of the Mohawk Peoples of Akwesasne: A Human Responsibility and Rights Solution”  

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