By Angela Marcakis, CASJ Status of Women Action Group and Surrey Teacher
A vigil was held in downtown Vancouver in March 2021 for Chelsea Poorman, a 24 year old Indigenous woman, who was last seen downtown on September 6, 2020. Police waited 10 days before issuing a press release about Chelsea. According to her sister, the police had told her they had “better things to do”. Indigenous victims’ families are often left feeling like the police force does not prioritize their cases and that police accountability must be improved.
Chelsea’s story is far too common for Indigenous women across Canada. Indigenous women are twelve times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than other women in Canada and sixteen times more likely than white women. It is no wonder that the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) called this violence a deliberate race, identity, and gender-based genocide.
This is devastating, especially when considering that before colonization, many First Nations were matriarchal societies, where clan mothers were the ones to make all the major decisions. When a child was born, they identified with their mother’s clan. It was considered rich to have daughters as the family line passed through the mothers. Women are the ones who give and sustain life and it is through women that future generations carry on. So when there are large numbers of murders, the ripple effect is a devastating loss of future generations, further perpetuating the genocide.
We’re dealing with a collective trauma here created by the Canadian government, police, and their priests and nuns who ran the residential school system. They have been after the land, and what better way to do that than to target our Indigenous women and girls who are our life givers?
-Lorelei Williams, Butterflies in Spirit
Every October 4, Sisters in Spirit Day brings communities across Canada together to honour the lives of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, show support for their loved ones, and educate the public on this national tragedy. This annual vigil was initiated in 2006 by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. In 2019, the Alberta government officially declared October 4 Sisters in Spirit Day.
In British Columbia, the Coalition on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls recently wrote an open letter calling for a BC action plan to end the current crisis of violence against Indigenous women and girls. BCTF president, Teri Mooring, sent a letter to Premier Horgan on behalf of all members, advocating for the creation of a provincial government action plan to implement the Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry into MMIWG. A multitude of reports and commissions over the years have set out clear recommendations. These include public education and awareness raising around violence against Indigenous women and girls, the issues and root causes of the violence they experience, and the issue of grooming for exploitation and sexual exploitation. This is especially important in communities connected to the Highway of Tears in northern BC, where Indigenous women are sexually assaulted three times more often than non-Indigenous women. Targeted education is also needed for Indigenous students, as most of the women and children trafficked in Canada are Indigenous.
Despite this national crisis, nothing seems to be happening to eliminate it. In fact, the government continues to approve pipelines and other resource development projects on stolen lands without considering their link to an increase in violence against Indigenous women and girls. Instead of eliminating dangers, the government is choosing to add to the risks.
Commemorating Sisters in Spirit Day with our students is one small way for teachers to take action and meet one of the Calls for Justice - the need for public education and public awareness around violence against Indigenous women and girls. As educators, we know that education can be a powerful tool for justice. We have seen how acknowledging days of action, such as Orange Shirt Day and Black Shirt Day, has started us on the path to creating space and drawing attention to important past and present oppressions. These acts help change peoples’ understanding and attitudes, and hopefully make change for the generations to come, by preventing violence and keeping Indigenous women and girls safe.
On Sisters in Spirit Day, we remember the Indigenous women who are missing in our lives and we work towards a better future.
MMIW Crisis Line: 1-844-413-6649
Provides 24/7 support to family, friends, and community members who are impacted by the loss of a missing or murdered Indigenous woman, girl or Two-spirit person.
Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/
The website has several documents, including
- Calls to Action
- Master List of Report Recommendations
Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls
CBC News webpage featuring profiles of 307 women and girls. https://www.cbc.ca/missingandmurdered/
Justice for Indigenous Women website: https://j4iw.ca/
Contains links to lesson plans and teachers’ guides.
Sisters in Spirit poster
This new poster was included in the September mail-out to all schools. The back of the poster includes an extensive list of resources.
Open letter from the Coalition on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in BC
Union of BC Indian Chiefs Website: https://www.ubcic.bc.ca/
Taking Action: What You Can Do?
MMIWG Advocacy and Action webpage, Kairos website: https://www.kairoscanada.org/