Violence against Indigenous women amounts to genocide: MMIWG inquiry

“We live in a country whose laws and institutions perpetuate violations of fundamental rights”

“Despite their different circumstances and backgrounds, all of the missing and murdered are connected by economic, social and political marginalization, racism, and misogyny woven into the fabric of Canadian society,” said the inquiry’s Chief Commissioner Marion Buller at the commission’s closing ceremony in Gatineau, Que., on Monday, June 3. (Photo courtesy of @MMIWG)

By Sarah Rogers

The staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada amount to a form of race-based genocide, a national commission has concluded, following a two-year inquiry.

In its final report, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls said that deliberate, ongoing human and Indigenous rights violations are the root cause behind that violence.

“Despite their different circumstances and backgrounds, all of the missing and murdered are connected by economic, social and political marginalization, racism, and misogyny woven into the fabric of Canadian society,” said the inquiry’s chief commissioner, Marion Buller, at the commission’s closing ceremony in Gatineau, Que., on Monday, June 3.

“The hard truth is that we live in a country whose laws and institutions perpetuate violations of fundamental rights, amounting to a genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.”

The report looks back to the very first harmful encounters Indigenous women faced, from 16th century explorers and early Christian missionaries, who staked claims to Indigenous territory and challenged Indigenous leadership and ways of life.

Those colonial structures persist today, the report noted, through tools like the Indian Act, the residential school legacy and child welfare systems.

The inquiry’s report acknowledges that there is disagreement around what constitutes genocide and whether or not it applies to Canada.

“Genocide is the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed within this report; as many witnesses expressed, this country is at war, and Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are under siege,” the report said.

Commissioners said it was impossible to determine the exact number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, though it’s estimated in the thousands.

In attendance at the final ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the report and pledged his government’s support in responding to its recommendations with “meaningful, Indigenous-led action.”

But many noted that the prime minister did not use or acknowledge the term genocide.

Asked about that later, Chief Commissioner Buller responded: “We don’t need to hear the word genocide come out of the prime minister’s mouth, because families have told us their truth.”

The report is the culmination of a process that lasted two and a half years and included community hearings, expert panels, and the testimony and input of over 2,300 people, including hundreds of Inuit who gave testimony or statements.

The report delivers 231 recommendations, called calls for justice, directed at governments, social services, industry and Canadians in general.

Those calls for justice include the following:

  • stricter penalties for men who are found guilty of spousal abuse and domestic violence
  • a review of Gladue principles in court and more Indigenous-specific sentencing options
  •  more Indigenous representation in the criminal justice system
  • the establishment of a national Indigenous and human rights ombudsperson and human rights tribunal
  • long-term funding for education programs and awareness campaigns that target violence prevention
  • an end to the apprehension of Indigenous children on the basis of poverty and cultural bias

The report also includes 46 Inuit-specific recommendations. Among them, a call for governments to honour land claims and their socio-economic commitments to Inuit, the creation of laws and services to protect Inuit culture, and the recognition of Inuktut as an official language in Canada.

Chief Commissioner Buller said on Monday morning that the calls for justice “are not just recommendations, they are legal imperatives.”

You can read the full report in English, as well as an executive summary of the report in Inuktitut at the inquiry’s website.

Read more about the Inuit-specific recommendations and reaction to the report later at Nunatsiaq.com.

The inquiry’s support line offers services in English and Inuktitut at 1-844-413-6649.

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(8) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northern Guy on

    I think that a conclusion of genocide is not one that can be fully substantiated. There are literally dozens of definitions of what constitutes genocide however the gold standard was developed by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment on the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). It defines genocide as: “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” The institutional, political and social constructs currently affecting Indigenous women in Canada do not meet these criteria as written. Do some of the conditions identified by the CPPCG, as conditions for genocide, currently exist for Indigenous women in Canada? Almost certainly they do. Were those conditions instituted with the express intent of “destroying in whole or in part and/or bringing about the physical destruction” of Indigenous women in Canada? Absolutely not.

  2. Posted by Concept Creep on

    The use of the term genocide is obviously going to be controversial; and unfortunately this will become the central focus of the discussion on the report. So here we are. Personally I think it’s a misuse of the term, but who can stand up against such emotional charged language in the current climate, even when it is misapplied. I suppose only a “misogynist” or “racist” would dare.

  3. Posted by Logic on

    It’s not genocide when aboriginals kill other aboriginals. It’s not even genocide when someone murders someone of a different race from them, either. Words have meaning, and this one doesn’t mean what the activists want it to.

  4. Posted by Quillette on

    For a thoughtful perspective on the discourse around this issue and genocide, I would encourage you to check out the following piece by Jonathan Kay, in Quillette:

    “Discussing the number of people killed in a genocide has an inherently dehumanizing effect on individual victims. But numbers matter, since the term “genocide” becomes completely meaningless if is used as a catch-all to describe all forms of homicide that afflict disadvantaged groups.”

    https://quillette.com/2019/06/03/the-ultimate-concept-creep-how-a-canadian-inquiry-strips-the-word-genocide-of-meaning/?fbclid=IwAR2apCCuxsXveOuM3eBisQnC_H-evp_U3iNU5U_40xtyl9CGy4gWWfvLHiU

  5. Posted by Simone on

    Indigenous peoples in Canada have been marginalized and traumatized by a history of colonial oppression. This has led to a situation when a disproportionate number of Indigenous people grapple with conditions that are inherently dangerous and/or life-shortening: poor health, addictions, crime, intimate-partner violence, child-hood abuse and accompanying PTSD, high risk behaviour, poverty, poor nutrition…the list goes on.

    These factors mean that Indigenous people in Canada are more likely to commit suicide, more likely to live on the margins and engage in high-risk lifestyles, and, as a result, much more likely to die young and die violently.

    It’s not rocket science: poverty, marginalization, and racism lead to higher mortality rates. I say racism because for years the police have refused to take Indigenous people’s safety seriously, and have engaged in policing practices that are culturally insensitive to say the least, racist in some cases.

    I had hoped for an intelligent, nuanced report, with solid, sensible advice for reforms in the policing in Canada. Instead, what we got was Truth and Reconciliation part II, a sort of emotional airing-of-pain, followed, perhaps by some sense of catharsis. I worry that the use of incendiary language (genocide) and pie-in-the sky recommendations (guaranteed income for all indigenous people) will mean little in the long run.

  6. Posted by Putuguk on

    English is an adaptable language. Genocide was only coined in 1944. Before then there was no word for killing off an entire people.

    Well, we need a new word now to describe what has happened to us native peoples in this country if it is not genocide as the way it was done to the Jews in Europe.

    Whatever you call it, it has to stop. The ladies that end up feeling like dirt because the way they are raised and treated is not right. And those are the lucky ones that survived.

    If it were any other group, it would have stopped long ago. That is a big point. Its unacceptable and against what our country stands for.

    It is a good thing this report is out. People should pay attention in a good way and not take it as bashing white people because that can happen too.

    If and when change starts to happen coming from this report, people should notice it and celebrate it, so as to encourage everyone else to make more progress. That is actually what I think is a women’s style of leadership. We should use it.

    In this way it will be possible to save women from future suffering so we can live together with greater respect and love for one another. That is what multiculturalism is all about.

  7. Posted by CB on

    The findings are heartbreaking. The stories heartbreaking and heartening in their journeys of healing. Let’s all help make our country a better, safer place for those most in need of our alliance. I am grateful to all the courageous and generous people who contributed to the inquiry and the report. I was not born in Canada but I made it my home and have a responsibility to continue to decolonize myself and be an ally to others. I was not born in Nunavut but I made it my beloved home and will continue to strive to do better. I am still learning and make mistakes but am surrounded by many who are willing to guide and allow me to be an ally. I am grateful.

  8. Posted by B. GLESCA ( WINNIPEG ) on

    I worked for social services in the U. K. before I came to
    Canada.
    People have the same problems with drugs, alcohol and
    poverty over there as they do here.
    Many minorities accuse the police of brutality and incompetence as they do in Canada.
    A police officer said to me, “If young people are going with
    strangers in motor cars, what do they expect ? Can they not
    see the danger. ”
    Congratulations to MMIWG. May your efforts be rewarded.

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