Addressing missing and murdered aboriginal women Wab Kinew and Ted Hughes discuss what action can be taken

Addressing missing and murdered aboriginal women

Wab Kinew and Ted Hughes discuss what action can be taken

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august 27 2014 aboriginal

Canada - On Missing Aboriginal Women

by John Bart Gerald

Before its government funding was cut (2010), the Native Women's Association of Canada documented throughout Canada and starting in the 1960's, 582 missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Undocumented and unreported instances are thought to run much higher. In Ontario 70 native women were missing or murdered and of these 90% were mothers, three so far in 2013 [1]; 45% of the cases remain unsolved.

In Canada, of a 100,000 missing persons each year over 90% are found within three weeks, 270 add to the list of long term cases.[2] Awareness of the disproportionate number of native women among the missing and murdered began to enter public consciousness with the discovery of murdered women at the Picton farm near Vancouver, British Columbia in 2002; 33 victims were eventually identified by DNA and a third of these were Aboriginal women.[3] The crime occurred during ten years or more of sex trade workers disappearing from Vancouver, with suggestions of police and systemic collusion. Approximately 50 women missing from 1991 to 2002 were traced to the pig farm's co-owner, Robert Pickton. The Pickton farm, worth millions, was near "Piggy's Palace" (run by Pickton's brother), where parties were hosted. Robert Picton, was convicted of second degree murder of six women , and the courts have protected him from retrial for first degree murder of 20 others.

The ugliness of the Picton murders, the presence of law enforcement and politicians at the lavish parties, the lack of action by Vancouver police and the RCMP at the killings of Downtown Eastside sex workers, tapped into a vein of terror with impunity. Concurrent crimes with evidence of Aboriginal children preyed on by a protected establishment and clients of a Vancouver club, were ignored and covered over by the media and the courts,[4] encouraging a concept of human rights for members only.

In February 2013, U.S. Human Rights Watch released its report[5] on treatment of Aboriginal women by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia.

The Human Rights Watch report provides evidence of:

1. RCMP abuse and sexual abuse of native women in police custody. Some of the evidence could indict police officers for crimes against humanity.

2. A failure of law enforcement to protect indigenous women from abuse and crimes.

3. Police apathy and inaction in response to aboriginal women's disappearing.

4. Lack of aboriginal or civilian recourse to police inaction or wrongdoing, with the implication that the avenues of recourse served to cover the offending officers.

5. Instances of law enforcement and judiciary collusion in the abuse, rape and prostitution of aboriginal girls and women. Accounts give a clear impression of a society preying criminally on aboriginals as the price of inclusion in the ruling group.[6]

It's both a police problem and a societal problem with roots in colonial administrative policies which the current federal government maintains. Revelations of the government's former Residential School policies which were clearly genocidal, met with official apologies, atonement, but no change in contemporary policies which disenfranchise both Aboriginals and the land itself. Recently The Canadian Human Rights Museum preparing to open refused to apply the word "genocide" to government Indian policies which showed a clear intention to

destroy the native people as a group.[7]

While European conquest and settlement of the Americas falls within parameters of genocide through its result and methods of enforcement, evidence of causative intention or motivation to exterminate Aboriginal peoples was lacking until the specific policies of colonial administrations made genocide a tactic of expansion and control. While laws allowing indigenous rights slowly improved, attitudes implicit in the conquering groups remain psychological controls of both Aboriginal and settlers.

Under pressure from the public and Aboriginal groups, the B.C Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was convened in 2010 , then attacked for lack of accountability, for bias, political indifference, and notable failure to include native groups. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) refused to participate, calling for a national inquiry, and if that failed, an international inquiry. Eight other groups withdrew from participation and the inquiry was found wanting by Amnesty International, Assembly of First Nations, the United Nations, and Union of BC

Indian chiefs president. Human Rights Watch strongly recommended a national inquiry.

The four volume B.C. Inquiry report strongly criticizes police and a systemic cover up of brutality to women, and in particular to Aboriginal women (there was no data list dedicated to missing and murdered non-Aboriginal women [8]). But police lack of concern for the missing women seemed less a policy against Aboriginals than the inclusion of Aboriginal women in police attitudes toward the poor of European stock. According to a police report in 1998, 75% of the missing women received government checks for social assistance.[9] Neither Police nor Commission of Inquiry found it suspect that the disappearances were saving the State money.

What the Human Rights Watch Report, among others, doesn't say is that the horror of the acts committed against women at Pickton Farm coupled with wealth and political power, allowed its continuation beyond reach of the law.[10] The nugget of fear remains a facet of Canadian right wing controls which empowered Canadians avoid through silence or cooperation, while the victims are consistently poor, Aboriginal or Euro-Canadian. Communities of the Aboriginal victims have the solidarity to protest the murders. Sex trade workers, runaways, the impoverished of the dominant group, are ignored because they are poor, vulnerable, and outside middle class concern. The Aboriginal struggle for rights and justice gives insight to marginalized settler groups.

The disproportionate number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women occurs within a context of :

Prison population – while aboriginal women comprise 4 % of Canada's population, they comprise 34% of the women in prison, and their number has increased over 86% in the past ten years.[11] Numbers of aboriginal women in Canadian prisons rose by about 90% between 2002 and 2012. The CBC finds the government generally dismissive of the problem.[12]

Infant mortality - rates are more than twice as high for Aboriginals than Canada's general population, and 4 times higher for Inuit.[13]

HIV aids infection and deaths – example: on Vancouver Island, while Aboriginal tribe members are 5.8 % of the population, they are 11% cent of the HIV cases.[14]

Foster care - in 2007-2008 while 8% of the children in British Columbia were aboriginal, 52% of the children in government care were Aboriginal, despite the example of Residential Schools in the treatment of native peoples under government practices. Of the approximately 30,000 children under government care in Canada nearly half are Aboriginal.[15]

Disease rates - UNICEF Canada noted that from 2002 to 2006 the Inuit TB rate was 90 times the national average.[16] Tuberculosis is eight to ten times more prevalent among all Aboriginals than non-Aboriginals; Hepatitis C rates 6 times, diabetes rates 3 to 5 times.[17]

Medical testing - from 1942 to 1952 , 1300 severely under-nourished Aboriginals were the unknowing subjects of government nutrition testing.[18] A 2011 study by the Alberta Health Services in Edmonton was seeking aboriginal test subjects for vaccine research.[19] A background in the Government's use of medical, physical and psychological abuse of Aboriginals is available in Kevin Annett's Hidden No Longer: Genocide in Canada Past and Present.[20]

Suicide rates - the Aboriginal suicide rate is over double the national average.[21] Among the Inuit it is 6 to 11 times the national average.[22]

Aboriginal suicide rates offered by the Health Canada website (for First Nations and Inuit Health) are twenty years out of date. In Alaska, for young aboriginal males the rate is approximately 9 times their counterparts in the other United States and for aboriginal women 19 times (overall the U.S. aboriginal suicide rate is already 3.5 the U.S. national average).[23]

The Harper government is reluctant to change the status quo. The Native Women's Association of Canada has mounted a campaign for a "National Inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada,[24] and received support from the Provincial and Territorial Premiers, the Assembly of First Nations, 133 First Nations tribes in Ontario, among others. The government has permitted a Parliamentary committee to hold hearings on the issue but refuses a national inquiry.[25] The Prime Minister's inability to address issues of Aboriginal rights has become a policy of denial, evident in response to Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike, the housing of the Attawapiskat, the passage of Bill C-45, the efforts of the Idle No More movement, the de-funding of The National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO). The UN Committee against Torture refused to accept the attempt in Canada's report to evade responsibility for violence against women and particularly Aboriginal women and girls.[26] The colonial policies are there in Canada's reluctance to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and more complexly in its defeat in 2010 of Bill C-300 which would have made Canadian resource extraction companies abroad more accountable for crimes against the local indigenous peoples internationally. Since 2006 Night's Lantern, a Canadian website focusing on genocide prevention, placed approximately 15 genocide warnings for Aboriginal peoples in Canada.[27]

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (of the Washington based Organization of American States) sent investigators to Canada early in August 2013. Previously the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Hunger was sent to Canada to report on Aboriginal access to food and was publicly derided by the government.[28]

The UN Commission on Human rights will send its Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya (U.S.), on October 12 -20, to report on Canada's fidelity to Aboriginal Treaty rights and communities. Prof. Anaya, a graduate of Harvard Law, has taught there as well as university law schools of Iowa, Toronto, Tulsa and New Mexico. Updates on his visit will be available at his website


(1) “First Nations women in Ontario at high risk, chiefs say,” Ontario chiefs, August 13, 2013, .

(2) Forsaken: the Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, the Honourable Wally T. Opal, QC, Nov. 19, 2012, British Columbia. p. 19. Public Safety Canada statistics from 2005.

(3) Forsaken. Vol 1. p. 14.

(4) Kevin Annett. Hidden from History: The Canadian Holocaust. 2001 [access:< http:// >]; pp. 91-95.

(5) Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada. 2013. Human Rights Watch.

(6) "Judge Ramsay and the legacy of sexual exploitation in Prince George," Those Who Take Us Away, HRW report, pp. 31-33.

(7) "CMHR rejects 'genocide' for native policies," Mary Agnes Welch, July 26, 2013, Winnipeg Free Press.

(8) Forsaken. Vol 1., p. 7.

(9) Forsaken. Vol.2, p.59.

(10) "Canada’s Missing Women Inquiry Faces Renewed Community Boycott," David P. Ball, April 13, 2012; “Indian Country Today. "BC Missing Women Commission of Inquiry," Angela Sterritt, Sept. 26, 2011, The Dominion.

(11) "Canadian justice system failing Aboriginal people,” Katerina Tefft, Aug.12,2013, The Manitoban. "Aboriginal women imprisoned in soaring numbers," The Canadian Press, Sept. 27, 2012, CBC.

(12) "Federal response to aboriginal corrections report 'dismissive'," Susana Mas, March 9, 2013, CBC.

(13) Health of Indigenous Children: Health Assessment in Action, eds. Janet Smylie & Paul Adomako. 2009. The Centre for Inner City Health. p.30.

(14) “Aboriginal people hardest hit by HIV in B.C.,” Katherine Dedyna & Judith Lavoie, Aug. 9, 2013, Times Colonist.

(15) 'Tragic' number of aboriginal children in foster care stuns even the experts,” Michael Woods & Sharon Kirkey, Postmedia News, May 8, 2013, Calgary Herald.

(16) Aboriginal children's health: leaving no child behind; Canadian Supplement to the State of the World's Children, 2009, UNICEF Canada.

(17) “Aboriginal Canadians: By the Numbers,” Sharon Kirkey & Jason Fekete (Postmedia News), Jan. 11, 2013, Montreal Gazette.

(18) "Assembly of First Nations passes emergency resolution on nutritional experiments," Bob Weber (The Canadian Press), July 18, 2013, The Globe and Mail.

(19) "Proof of vaccine Experimentation on aboriginal newborns and children in Canada today," Jeremiah Jourdain, Aug. 20, 2011,

(20) Hidden No Longer: Genocide in Canada Past and Present. 2010, Squamish Territory [access:< >].

(21) "Suicide among Aboriginal People in Canda," current, Canadian Mental Health Association.

(22) Suicide Among Aboriginal People in Canada. 2007. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

(23) "American Indian Youth in Crisis: Tribes Grapple with Suicide Emergency," Stephanie Woodward, Oct. 10, 2012, Indian Country Today.

(24) Petitions are available at "NWAC Petition - A National Inquiry is needed," Native Women's Association Canada [access:< >].

(25) "Conservatives dismiss call for aboriginal women inquiry despite premiers' backing," The Canadian Press, July 25, 2013, Calgary Herald.

(26) "Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 19 of the Convention," June 1, 2013, The United Nations Committee against Torture, 48th session [access:< >], #20.

(27) Night's Lantern genocide warnings [access:< >].

(28) "Night's Lantern suppressed news," May 18, 2012 [access:< >]. 

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Stephen Harper's refusal of national inquiry shows Canada's 'shame': Métis leader

Prime minister says deaths, disappearances of aboriginal women are 'crime,' not 'sociological phenomenon'

The death of an aboriginal teenager in Winnipeg this week is once again prompting demands for a national inquiry into missing and murdered women in Canada.

Tina Fontaine's body was found in a bag in the Red River on Sunday and police are treating her death as a homicide.

Despite Canada's premiers and territorial leaders endorsing calls for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday that the issue should not be viewed as a sociological phenomenon, but rather as crime.

At a rally in Edmonton on Friday, dozens came out to show their support for calls for a national inquiry and to demand justice for aboriginal women.

"It's the shame of Canada now that people realize what's happening in this beautiful country," said Muriel Stanley Venne, a human rights activist and Métis leader in Edmonton. "This is my country and I'm ashamed of the fact that there's so many of our women that are murdered on a kind of regular basis."

'It's the shame of Canada now that people realize what's happening in this beautiful country.'- Muriel Stanley Venne, human rights activist and Métis leader

Venne wasn't alone in her condemnation of the prime minister.

On Friday, the premiers of both Ontario and Manitoba added their voices to those blasting Harper over his refusal, saying he missed the point, and the Canadian Human Rights Commission also called for a national inquiry.

"This is not acceptable in a country like Canada," said David Langtry, acting chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in a statement on Tuesday. "It is time for a full public inquiry into the root causes of so many deaths and disappearances of aboriginal women and girls. It is time for a national action plan to confront this issue."

In May, the RCMP issued a detailed statistical breakdown of 1,181 cases since 1980. It said aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said on Friday that Harper is refusing to hold a national inquiry because the results could bring to light the societal issues plaguing Canada's aboriginal people and the federal government's responsibility to fix them.

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay says the Harper government is focusing on addressing the issue through aboriginal justice programs and a national missing persons DNA index.

Tina Fontaine, 15, was from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba and had been in Winnipeg less than a month when she ran away from foster care.

First Nations alliance launches challenge of B.C. treaty process

Vancouver — The Canadian Press

A stack of overlapping land claims by First Nations is a “cancer” within British Columbia’s treaty process, says a prominent provincial chief spearheading a court challenge of the decades-old method of negotiating aboriginal rights and title in the province.

The eight-member Okanagan Nation Alliance has filed a civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver disputing the B.C. treaty process, and centres its legal action on an agreement between the province and Ktunaxa Nation Council.

The incremental treaty agreement was signed in March, 2013, and gives the Cranbrook, B.C., nation and its adjoining bands 242 hectares of land in the West Kootenays.

The deal is the first stage of forging a broader treaty.

But the alliance argues the majority of nine parcels of property being signed over actually falls within its own members’ traditional territory.

Alliance chairman and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip argues a “fundamentally flawed” B.C. treaty process is hampering fair resolution of the dispute.

“This process has been around now for approximately 23 years. It has cost billions of dollars with very little result,” Chief Phillip said in an interview on Monday.

Chief Phillip said he believes the government is signing so many of these incremental agreements because of the criticism around the glacial pace of treaty talks. “The overlap issue is the cancer of the B.C. treaty process.”

British Columbia is the only province that didn’t sign agreements with its First Nations in the 1800s. There are only a couple modern-day treaties.

The process for negotiating aboriginal land rights was established in 1992 by agreement of the province, the federal government and the First Nations Summit.

Those efforts created the B.C. Treaty Commission, an independent body devised to facilitate the treaty negotiations.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration by the provincial government, under the minister of aboriginal relations, that it failed to consult with the alliance before unilaterally moving ahead with the Ktunaxa deal. It’s also seeking an injunction stopping the province from taking further steps to transfer the lands, known as the Wensley Bench.

A spokesman for the province declined comment on the lawsuit, but noted the goal of instituting incremental agreements is to speed up the process.

A request for comment by the Ktunaxa Nation was not immediately returned.

The alliance contends the land signed away includes village sites, hunting grounds and other cultural heritage sites important to its own members. The legal action was filed after the group attempted for more than a year to resolve the issue with the province directly, Chief Phillip said.

He said many swaths of land are in dispute across the province, but it’s only when a claimant group is at the point of signing off on an agreement that it triggers the concern of the adjacent community.

“It’s like your neighbour talking ad nauseam about what they want to do in terms of improving their property,” he said, “and you don’t really pay much attention to it until the guy starts knocking your fence down and encroaching on half of your property to complete his renovation of his house.” B.C. Treaty Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre declined to comment on the suit because the case is targeting the province.

But the commission will always encourage First Nations to work out protocols on shared territory, she said.

“This business about running off to court every time we run into an obstacle, I mean, eventually we have to sit down and figure it out amongst ourselves,” she said. “That’s been the position of the Treaty Commission since day one, and that’s always going to be our position.” Another overlapping treaty agreement that’s caused a stir in recent weeks has occurred near Terrace, B.C.

The Gitxsan First Nation threatened evictions of the railway, foresters and fishermen in a dispute over land it claims, but was handed to two neighbouring First Nations in a treaty agreement.

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeBC

Alberta First Nation says it has signed oil and gas deal with Chinese firm

A First Nation says it has signed a deal with a Chinese company to explore and develop oil and natural gas on its land near Calgary.

The Nakoda Stoney Nation says it has signed an agreement with Hong Kong-based Huatong Petrochemical Holdings Ltd.

Under the terms of the deal, Huatong is to provide the funding and Nakoda Oil & Gas Inc. is to be the primary operator of the joint venture.

The Stoney reserve at Morley is about 60 km west of Calgary.

The First Nation says the Jumping Pound gas field has produced significant quantities of natural gas since 1951.

The Nakoda Stoney Nation includes members of the Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley bands.

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail

Changes afoot for aboriginal treaty talks and resource development

Bill Curry and Kathryn Blaze Carlson

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

The Conservative government is launching more flexible options for aboriginal treaty talks after setbacks to its ambitious resource development plans.

The announcement signals Ottawa’s desire to give its stagnant British Columbia treaty process a boost by negotiating smaller, incremental treaties where possible and signing deals with aboriginal groups outside the formal treaty process.

It is also promising to improve its nation-wide approach to aboriginal consultation, which has been at the heart of a string of court defeats for the federal government as it attempts to speed up resource projects like mining and new pipelines, particularly in Western Canada.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt made the announcement on Monday in Vancouver via a news release and was not available to answer questions.

The plans are in response to recommendations in a November, 2013, report from Douglas Eyford, who was appointed last year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as Canada’s special federal representative on West Coast energy infrastructure.

Mr. Eyford’s report called for better relations between governments and aboriginals in order to build the trust required to reach agreement on resource development. However, trust is in short supply at the moment when it comes to aboriginal relations and the Harper government.

While the Prime Minister won high praise with his 2008 apology for Canada’s residential schools history, his government has inspired resentment over its approach to resource development and education reform. The Assembly of First Nations is leaderless because of internal disagreement over how to work with Ottawa.

Mr. Valcourt’s announcement also comes on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling in June that for the first time recognized the existence of aboriginal title on a particular site in B.C. – a decision that put aboriginals on a new footing, in part because it said they still own their ancestral lands if they did not surrender them through treaties.

Anne Johnson, a Queen’s University community relations expert and PhD candidate in mining, said Ottawa appears to be redoubling its efforts to persuade First Nations people they would benefit from resource projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline to the B.C. coast.

“It’s a step forward,” she said. “But I think the government is looking at it through their own lens, which is that development is the highest good and a desirable outcome.”

Historic treaties and modern land agreements cover most of Canada, but B.C. is a clear exception. According to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 57 groups representing two-thirds of all First Nations people in the province are currently participating in the B.C. treaty process. Since the negotiations were launched in 1993, the government has signed and implemented three modern treaties.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, called the government’s announcement a “misguided” attempt to calm jitters among industry stakeholders.

“This is a pathetic effort to revitalize the treaty process in the aftermath of a dramatic change to the legal landscape,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court decision. “It’s going to take more than that.”

Monday’s announcement includes an offer from Ottawa to facilitate shared territory disputes between aboriginal groups in relation to major resource development projects. It is also offering to stop clawing back federal transfers for health, education and social development based on an aboriginal government’s own sources of revenue. Ottawa will also resume treaty fisheries negotiations in B.C., which had been deferred as part of a public inquiry into the Fraser River Sockeye population.

“Our goal is to work in partnership so we can seize opportunities to promote prosperous communities and economic development for the benefit of all Canadians,” Mr. Valcourt said in a statement.