Inuit prepare list of priorities for women and violence roundtable
“You can’t look the other way anymore”
With dozens of high-ranking delegates expected to attend today’s first roundtable discussion on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Ottawa — all of them with their own priorities and political agendas — Terry Audla admits it’s a challenge to hope for change from a lot of talk.
But the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami says at this point that just getting federal, provincial and Aboriginal leaders together at the same table with families of victims to talk about the most pressing issue in Aboriginal communities today is, in itself, progress.
You take what you can get.
“I can’t be cynical. I always have to hope for the best. I can’t be jaded and throw up my hands and say ‘I give up.’ That’s too easy,” Audla said.
“All I can do is reach out and give constructive criticism and at the same time, bring about more dialogue and understanding: these are the realities, this is what we need to do.”
The two-day event, which included a closed door meeting of just victims’ families Feb. 26, and the all-day political roundtable Feb. 27, was organized by a partnership between national Aboriginal organizations and provincial leaders.
Delegates are hoping to build a framework to combat violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada, a complex social issue perpetuated by many factors including poverty, racism, addictions, cultural loss, past colonialism, mental illness and the intergenerational impact of residential schools.
A May 2014 RCMP study confirmed that Aboriginal women in Canada suffer much higher rates of violent crime than non-Aboriginal women.
The 22-page National Operational Overview found that 1,181 Aboriginal women were murdered or reported missing between 1980 and 2012.
Audla will form part of a six-person Inuit delegation at the meeting, each of whom will get a chance to speak.
They include Pauktuutit President Rebecca Kudloo and Pauktuutit board member Annie Buchan, Sarah Leo, who is the Nunatsiavut president, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Cathy Towtongie and NTI youth representative Alyssa Flaherty-Spence.
Audla said he and his colleagues have been working this week on a list of points they want to get across at today’s meeting, that:
• Inuit women and girls remain at greatest risk for violence in the home, so that should be the first priority for the prevention of violence. This could include school-based curriculum to promote self-esteem and healthy relationships;
• there’s a need to improve support for families to help deal with the aftermath of violence by better access to general and specialized counselling and traditional healing programs; and,
• unresolved trauma needs to be tackled by several means, including by addressing residential school experiences, which Audla says currently underlies much of the violence in Inuit families.
It’s clear, Audla said, that policy makers cannot address violence against women and girls without deconstructing and reducing violent tendencies of men.
Getting to the root causes of that aggression, and dealing with the family as a whole, would have a more significant impact on the issue than just building more safe shelters for women, he said.
If the roundtable produces a resulting document outlining priority areas, programs geared toward men and boys should be included in that priority list, Audla said.
“At the end of the day, this is about the whole family unit, who’s causing the violence and how do we address that? I wish I had an answer toward decreasing the violence,” he said.
“It’s becoming brutal. It’s becoming quite violent in our communities. I hate to say it, but it will probably get worse before it gets better. Some of the atrocities I hear about — I mean, it’s not reported by media or even reported to police.”
According to a Nunavut judicial review of assault, sexual assault and homicide in Nunavut from 2000 to 2012, the territory still leads the country in such violent crimes and was showing “no sign of slowing.”
Ultimately, safer, healthier communities are everybody’s responsibility, from political leaders to community leaders to neighbours, Audla said.
In the past, progress has been impeded by the “silo” mentality, he said — with everyone working independently on the same issue rather than collaborating. This roundtable, he said, will help break down those silos and help to build a true team effort.
“In my opinion, no one is faultless,” Audla said — including himself.
“These are our women and children and for them to go through the violence they go through. I myself grew up in a violent home. I’ve seen my mom medevaced on more than three occasions because of it.
“Sadly, it’s become almost normal in a lot of our communities. That has to stop. You can’t look the other way anymore.”
Though the federal government has so far refused to call a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, Ottawa is sending two ministers to this event: Status of Women Minister – Leitch and Bernard Valcourt, the minister for Aboriginal affairs.
“We now have the federal government at the table, which wasn’t the case before, right? So that’s progress in my opinion. So how do we capitalize on that?” he said.
“How do we actually work together in partnership with each other to try and address this endemic problem, and make it so that we come up with actual solutions? It’s a step forward. Hopefully after the roundtable, we’ll have increased commitment, from every level.”