Indigenous women who have been organizing to end violence for decades want the federal inquiry into missing and murdered women to consult with feminist groups that work with Indigenous women as well as families of the missing and murdered women.
That’s what the committee organizing Vancouver’s annual Women’s Memorial March told a news conference on Jan 12th, just ahead of their meeting with Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, who is in charge of the inquiry.
“[The women’s groups] have the stats and the political analysis,” Fay Blaney, co-chair of the committee, said at the news conference.
“The status of Indigenous women has to be at the top of the [inquiry’s] agenda,” said Blaney. The Inquiry should also consider violence against women as an issue of colonization, she said.
It’s also important for the Inquiry to talk to families. Families can show where the various systems went wrong and they have stories that need to be shared with commissioners to help with healing, Blaney added.
“After two years of apologizing, the government took away almost 200 programs,” said Carol Martin, also on the organizing committee and a worker at the Women’s Centre. “They should be putting in healing and wellness centres.”
For 25 years the committee that organizes Vancouver’s Missing and Murdered Women’s March has been the “voice of women who have been murdered and missing when no one else listened,” said Blaney. The committee “honours and commemorates all of the women who have been missing and murdered,” added Martin.
“We have been marching since 1991,” said Myrna Cranmer, another committee member, showing pages and pages of lists of the names of women who died and went missing. “A lot of laws and policies have to be looked at,” she added. “Racism and sexism kills and is still killing.”
“I get really emotional around this time,” said Martin. “We are mothers, sisters, daughters. Someone cares for us. We don’t want this inquiry labeling us.”
Blaney said that the Coalition that formed after the provincial Oppal Inquiry “will be pressing the Minister to invite provincial and territorial counterparts to buy into the process. Child welfare is another really tragic source of oppression for us, but how do we address that when it’s under provincial jurisdiction?”
Evelyn Youngchief, who said she was a survivor of the Downtown Eastside, spoke emotionally about the need for help for young women who age out of foster care at age 18 and end up on the street. “That has to end,” she said.
When asked if she trusted the new process for the Inquiry, Blaney said, “I don’t know about trust. We have been distrusted so much as Indigenous women. But that won’t stop us.”