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​Silence No More: ​Speaking out against violence faced by Indigenous women and children

by Matt Cicero

A group of 25 people gathered at the University of Ottawa to listen to grassroots Indigenous activists reflect on the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada as part of the larger #shutdowncanada movement on Feb. 13.

The teach­-in was a part of #shutdowncanada, a national day of action emphasizing direct action and a diversity of tactics. The Indigenous Peoples’ Solidarity Movement Ottawa, a grassroots Indigenous solidarity collective, and Carleton student Amanda Milson collaborated to organize the teach­-in.

The decision to organize a teach-­in rather than a direct action was made to respect concerns that a direct action might draw attention away from the work of Indigenous women and two-­spirits to receive justice for the missing and murdered and their families, according to event organizers.

The event began with a prayer by a Cree elder, Mary­Lou Iahtail. Her daughter, the event’s main speaker Jocelyn Iahtail, shared her struggle and activism against gender­based violence. She spoke about the loss of her unborn daughter, how she was beaten by her ex-­husband and the threats of violence she faced after publicly denouncing the incest, sexual abuse and corruption in her community.

Through it all she emphasized the importance of returning to Waska Pimatisiwaywin, or the circle way of being. Returning to Waska Pimatisiwaywin means relearning and reinvigorating traditional teachings, Indigenous knowledge, and Indigenous language and culture.

Iahtail also emphasized the deep impact of intergenerational child warfare genocide, a form of trans-generational trauma by which means parents pass their trauma onto their children and so on down the line. For Canada’s Indigenous peoples, the most obvious sources of this trauma are the residential school system and the 60s and Millenium Scoops. These mechanisms were put in place in the late nineteenth century to, in the words of Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs (1913­-1932) Duncan Campbell Scott, “Get rid of the Indian problem.”

The residential school system involved the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their languages, practice their cultures and where they were frequently severely physically, sexually, emotionally and spiritually abused.

Iahtail said that much of the violence and other social problems that exist in Indigenous communities today can be traced back to the residential schools.

The 60s and Millennium Scoops refer to the abduction of Indigenous children by the Children’s Aid Society. Abducted children were placed in non­native families, mostly white ones. According to the National Household Survey, about 15 per cent of kids in care in Canada are Indigenous. This despite the fact that Indigenous people only comprise about 4 per cent of the national population. Children on reserves are nearly eight times more likely than other children to be taken into care.

This is an enormous and internationally recognized social problem the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” is a form of genocide.

After the presentation participants were all invited to share their thoughts and feelings about the impacts of settler colonialism, past and present. Many expressed their shock and outrage about what had happened and their desire to create a new relationship between Indigenous people and settlers, one based on solidarity and mutual respect.

Iahtail criticized calls for a national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirits, saying that “a mainstream based inquiry will not work. It is sure to set us up to fail. It will not accurately tell our Sacred Stories. Nor approach things from a holistic perspective.”

Instead, she said, “The reparations need to reflect Waska Pimatisiwaywin.”

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol.7, No. 5 (Feb/March 2015).

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