Aboriginal women too often the victims of racialized, sexualized violence: Sisters in Spirit initiative addresses alarmingly high numbers of missing, murdered Aboriginal women in Canada

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The Native Women’s Association of Canada believes that we are in an urgent state of affairs regarding the safety of Aboriginal women in Canada. Although Aboriginal women represent only 3% of the Canadian population, they are over represented as victims of racialized, sexualized violence, and too often targeted because of their gender and their Aboriginal identity.

“The current status of Aboriginal women can be traced back to several historical realities,” says President Beverley Jacobs.  “Too many Canadians are unaware of how Aboriginal peoples, especially Aboriginal women, have been systematically targeted,” she adds.

Until 1985, for example, marrying a non-Aboriginal person resulted in Aboriginal women losing their status as “Indian,” as well as their right to live on reserve and their ability to access other programs and services. Thousands of women were forced off reserves and suffered cultural isolation. 

The legacy of the residential school system, moreover, resulted in a cycle of trauma and abuse that has impacted multiple generations of Aboriginal women and men.  Additional government policies in the 1960s allowed the removal of Aboriginal children from their communities and placed them in non-Aboriginal homes. This resulted in the break-up of families, loss of cultural identity, and in many cases, trauma and abuse.

“Even today in 2007,” Jacobs mourns, “Aboriginal women and their families experience systemic racism. The results have been damaging to the Aboriginal community nationwide. Our women are more vulnerable than ever.”

Sisters in Spirit Initiative, 2005-2010

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) launched the national Sisters in Spirit (SIS) campaign in March 2004 to raise public awareness of the alarmingly high rates of violence against Aboriginal women in Canada.
SIS is a five-year research, education and policy initiative that is designed to increase public knowledge and understanding at a national level of the impact of racialized, sexualized violence against Aboriginal women often leading to their disappearance and death.

The main objective of Sisters in Spirit is to address violence against Aboriginal (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) women, particularly racialized, sexualized violence, that is, violence perpetrated against Aboriginal women because of their gender and Aboriginal identity. This type of violence typically occurs in the public sphere, where societal indifference often leaves Aboriginal women at greater risk.

The SIS initiative will undertake qualitative (life histories) and quantitative research (statistics) on racialized, sexualized violence against Aboriginal women with cooperating families who have female family members that are missing or murdered. This will enable us to gain a better understanding of circumstances, root causes and trends.

“Although we won’t be releasing all of our findings, recommendations and final conclusions until 2010,” explains Jacobs, “we can announce now that our researchers are tracking more than 340 names in our database.  Each one of these women are daughters, sisters, mothers, loved ones who are missed terribly.  It’s because of these women that we have SIS.  Our dedicated SIS staff are working for all these women and their families.”

NWAC has also developed community education tool-kits which we will share with Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal organizations. These kits will be presented at national and international workshops and conferences to both educate the general public and raise awareness of our work.

Throughout this entire process, NWAC will host several Family Gatherings which are designed to unite families who have had loved ones murdered or go missing, as well as provide a venue for families to guide our work by sharing their needs and recommendations.

“We recently held our second Family Gathering in Vancouver,” explains Jennifer Lord who works as a Community Development Coordinator at NWAC. “More than 30 family members were invited, representing 12 of our sisters who have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada. The 2007 Family Gathering was a rewarding experience for everyone involved.  Anyone who would like to get more involved in SIS should contact NWAC and join our fight to raise awareness.”  

“SIS is centered on the power of voice,” adds Jacobs, “many of our sisters didn’t have a voice before and neither did their families.  This is why SIS exists, this is our NWAC vision.  We want to empower women and their families and work with them to reclaim our traditional way of being. At the same time, we will force governments, the judiciary and police forces to change racist attitudes towards Canada’s Aboriginal women and their families.”

For more information, visit: www.nwac-hq.org or contact:  1-800-461-4043.