I have been following the updates of Missing and murdered Indigenous women and I am in awe of the beautiful tributes and actions the lay in wake of the most heineous and deadly acts occuring in this country.
I first became aware of how differently indigenous women are treated in Canada after reading Kim Anderson’s book “A Recognition of Being”. Where if I recall correctly, the idea of demonizing the Indigenous woman was key to successful colonization because officials saw how central our women were and the power that role was imbued with. Remove or silence the heart of the Nation and the people will crumble.
I came across more of the same ideas after taking a Sociology and Gender course during my undergrad. I read this article “Categories and Terrains of Exclusion: Constructing the “Indian Woman” in The Early Settlement Era in Western Canada” by Sarah Carter
Many of the messages in this article, Sarah Carter clearly identified ways in which government and national press sent messages about Indigenous Women by portraying them with negative connotations in the 1880s.
“The depiction of these women as lewd and licentious, particularly after 1885, was used to deflect criticism from the behaviour of officials and the North West mounted Police (NWMP) and to legitimize the constraints placed on the activities and movements of Aboriginal women in the world off the reserve.” pg 31
The latest non-action of government in the refusal to call an inquiry into the 800+ missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada (now 1200+ and climbing) seemed to be an echo of that long ago time. I don’t identify as an activist, I wonder what I can do as an individual. I am categorized into one of the most vulnerable parts of society just by being. People talk about accountability and standing up. Something I’m not really used to doing and currently exploring in my own life.
I have been mulling these things over as more fervent calls to action are displayed on my computer screen and in media. I wondered what can be done.
It just happens that my nephew is visiting my son and I, all the way from the Rez. Instead of spending the week plunked in front of one electronic device or another, I decided I would involve the boys in a small project.
I asked the boys to name off all of the women and girls in their lives, on their own, each of them named about 15 each, with help we came close to 50 women/girls including teachers, friends, relatives. All ages, some even non-native. We wrote the names down in a circle around each boys name.
I then shared with the boys that there are over 800 missing or murdered women in Canada and asked them to think about what would happen if all of the women in their circles disappeared one day and no one knew where they went.
I asked them what they would do if even one of them went missing, a mom, a sister, a friend.
Most of the things they said were violent in nature, things they would do to the “bad guy”. I then asked them to think of non-violent ways.
I told them that the government is not going to call an inquiry, I explained this as a national effort to talk to police, families, and others who could help to find out how to stop these women from having bad things happen to them.
I noticed that many of the same “messages” were inherent in my explanations “government not doing anything” “police not doing enough” and I asked the boys who is left to do something about the problem? What could we do as people?
I want this project to be about changing the messages. We are not enemies of Canada or the government. Even though it feels like it a lot of the time.
We are people trying to figure out how to live together in a good way. I want the boys to have a good understanding that there are avenues for us to get help and to feel we are important to the people in our lives even if we aren’t seen as important to the government or police.
We can let the people in our lives know they are loved and valued very much.
So I asked the boys to come up with a message of their own using any medium they want (music, video, poem, drawings, etc.) to tell the women and girls in their lives how important they are to them, and help in their families and homes by learning how to be nice to one another.
It is a difficult discussion and the boys are so young, but as sad as it is this is part of their indigenous reality.
The messages have to change, more postive and loving words are necessary, more people need to know they are loved and important… lets start here.