Background and Inquiries:
Indigenous communities and activist groups have long been advocating for action against the disappearance and murder of an alarming number indigenous women and girls in Canada.
The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR) unit of the RCMP was established in 2010 in response to their earlier investigations of murdered and missing Indigenous women, particularly in relation to what became known as the “Highway of Tears” an area of intersecting highways around Highway 16 in northern British Columbia where at least 19 indigenous women and girls had been murdered by that time.
A 2014 report by the RCMP, titled “Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview“, found that more than 1,000 Indigenous women were murdered over a span of 30 years. From 2001 to 2015, the homicide rate for Indigenous women in Canada was almost six times as high as the homicide rate for other women, representing “4.82 per 100,000 population versus 0.82 per 100,000 population.”
In 2016 the Government of Canada launched the independent National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. As background to the inquiry it was determined that, between the years 1980 and 2012, Indigenous women and girls represented 16% of all female homicides in Canada, while constituting only 4% of the female population in Canada.
Statements for the inquiry were gathered from across Canada between May 2017 and December 2018. A total of 2,380 people participated in gatherings and hearings across the country. The final report entitled “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” was released in June 2019.
There was an overwhelming concern expressed by the families who gave testimonies to the Inquiry, believing that police investigations were “flawed” and that police services “had failed in their duty to properly investigate the crimes committed against them or their loved ones.”
This prompted a Forensic Document Review Project to review police and other related institutional files. The most significant findings of this review were as follows:
- There is no “reliable estimate of the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA persons in Canada.”
- The 2014 and 2015 RCMP reports on MMIWG “identified narrow and incomplete causes of homicides of Indigenous women and girls in Canada.”
- The “often-cited statistic that Indigenous men are responsible for 70% of murders of Indigenous women and girls is not factually based.”
- “Virtually no information was found with respect to either the numbers or causes of missing and murdered Métis and Inuit women and girls and Indigenous 2SLGBTQQIA persons.”
- “Indigenous communities, particularly in remote areas, are under-prioritized and under-resourced.”
- “There is a lack of communication to families and Indigenous communities by police services and a lack of trust of the police by Indigenous communities.”
- “There continues to be a lack of communication with and coordination between the police and other service agencies.”
- “[d]eaths and disappearances of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are marked by indifference. Specifically, prejudice, stereotypes, and inaccurate beliefs and attitudes about Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA persons negatively influence police investigations, and therefore death and disappearances are investigated and treated differently from other cases.”
Symbolism and Community
In 2010, Metis artist Jaime Black started the REDress Project in response to the missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic in Canada. In this ongoing project empty red dresses are hung in a variety of environments to symbolise the missing and murdered persons. Both Canada and the U.S. have declared May 5th ‘Red Dress Day’ to promote awareness of the issue. Jaime Black chose the colour red for the dresses after conversations with an indigenous friend, who told her red is the only colour the spirits can see. “So (red) is really a calling back of the spirits of these women and allowing them a chance to be among us and have their voices heard through their family members and community.”
Our local Stz’uminus First Nation has been touched by this tragedy and has chosen to commemorate their missing women and girls by extending the REDress project to our highways. In May 2021 trees lining the side of the TransCanada Highway at the north and southern approaches to Ladysmith were adorned with red dresses.
On at least one occasion a small group held a traditional prayer meeting at the roadside to honor and remember a murdered family member. Poignant evidence of great pain and sorrow borne with immense dignity.
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