Protest in support of Wetsuwe'ten, 100 people with banners

Institutional Indifference: Learning from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Since the conclusion of National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, COCo has worked to read through the final reports, and   particularly the one specific to Québec. We are trying to learn, and share those learnings, as we go. 

A strong parallel can be made between the findings of the final report, and the current fight led by the Wet’suwet’en – with women at the forefront – to defend their lands and waters. We’ll talk more about that at the end- including ways you can plug in to support. 

Institutional Indifference 

In this blog post we’ll focus on some findings around the indifference of institutions, and their role in maintaining oppressive systems and practices that particularly impact Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. 

Erasure of Indigenous women’s leadership

Historically, Indigenous women had key roles in their community, both as providers and as leaders. Along with their regular responsibilities around the home and the community, they “were generally considered to be the protectors and guardians of the land, water, culture, language and family”. 

As we know, colonisation and the establishment of the Indian Act had a huge impact on the role and space given to Indigenous women (see “Historical context of gendered violence). Power was given to men in disproportionate ways, and women were stripped of many of their rights. 

Even though some of these wrongs were addressed by amendments made to the Indian Act in more recent decades, the impacts of this erasure of Indigenous women from decision-making processes can still be felt. 

“The current discourse on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and their land claims is led primarily by men and that they ignore claims specific to Indigenous women.” 

Intersectional identity = intersectional oppression

The report points to the fact that Indigenous women face oppression both as women and as Indigenous people. This multi-layered oppression is often overlooked or ignored by institutions that are mostly male-led, and mostly white. 

We can see this in the way the police investigate cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women, cases that are often overlooked or closed prematurely. The report states that

“most of the Indigenous women and families who testified before the National Inquiry felt that they were not taken seriously, or even that they were treated differently or treated with contempt or indifference by the police authorities because they are Indigenous.” 

Put in a more personal way, another person testified that:

“…where I get the impression that an Indigenous woman who signs a complaint or speaks out, right away she’ll be judged. She’s seen as an alcoholic, a drug addict, a bit of a nobody. I look forward to the day when they’ll treat us like human beings. I look forward to having the same services as another human being.” 

This can be felt by Indigenous women in most institutions they interact with, including the health system, youth protection, and justice system.

“All too often, Indigenous women sense and experience discrimination when they use public services. They mistrust the representatives of the institutions which are supposed to ensure their safety, due in part to their fraught relationships with the justice system.”

This creates a deep sense of insecurity for Indigenous women, who not only cannot rely on the institutions that are meant to protect them and defend their rights, but are actually specifically targeted by them, as is the case with youth protection.

“Due to the fact that family and parenting practices specific to Indigenous societies are often misunderstood or misconstrued by non Indigenous caseworkers, Indigenous mothers are sometimes judged more harshly and are more frequently perceived as being unfit to take care of their children.” 

Refusal to Change

The report points to a strong need to address the deep flaws in our institutions and in the services that impact First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

“The fact is that there are still very few studies that rigorously assess the effectiveness of services for preventing violence in Indigenous communities. Yet it is known that, too often, those programs and services were not developed in collaboration with the partners, and that they are typically implemented using a “top-down” approach.” 

The report points to the fact that while the Quebec government has repeatedly established action plans to address violence against Indigenous women, very little has been truly implemented over the years. Hundreds of recommendations have already been presented in previous reports, including better training for police forces and health professionals to ensure that they incorporate a culturally sensitive and educated approach to their work. 

“… in order to fully understand resilience and healing among Indigenous peoples, what is needed is a holistic approach that takes into consideration individuals’ emotional, physical, mental and spiritual dimensions and involves family members, the community and the environment.” 

The current protest of the Wet’suwet’en

A strong link can be made between the issue addressed above and the situation of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, whose members are currently protesting the construction of the CGL pipeline on unceded traditional Wet’suwet’en territory. This peaceful protest has been led by Indigenous women, who have clearly stated their role as protectors of the land.

“For Indigenous women, actions to ‘protect their territory and the environment are actions that are connected to the survival of their most profound identity’”. 

The violent actions from the RCMP to arrest land defenders and dismantle the camp is yet again an example of an institution that violently oppresses the people it is meant to defend.

If you would like to know more about the current actions of the Wet’suwet’en to defend their land and waters, check out the Wet’suwet’en Supporter Toolkit.

In solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, the Kanien’kehá:ka people of Tyendinaga and Kahnawake have also mounted blockades. If you are able to offer more local support, these blockades are looking for firewood, warm food, and cash donations. Find out more here, for a facebook group that is mobilizing around this. 

Thanks to our Board member Julia Couture Glassco for writing this piece!