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Genocide is the right word to describe Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls

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The commission for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Woman and Girls (MMIWG) released its long-awaited report last week to a freakout over one particular word contained in the report: genocide. The report itself is a comprehensive picture of life for Indigenous women in Canada — there are thousands of […]


The commission for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Woman and Girls (MMIWG) released its long-awaited report last week to a freakout over one particular word contained in the report: genocide. The report itself is a comprehensive picture of life for Indigenous women in Canada — there are thousands of words backing up the use of that one word. I haven't read it all, at over 1,000 pages it's not light summer reading, but I would say that it is required reading, in some form, for all Canadians.

In the time since the report's release, we have been subject to endless mansplaining about how the concept of genocide is not applicable in the case of Indigenous women. Romeo Dallaire, who witnessed the horrors of the Rawanda massacre, took exception with the word, comparing it to the brutal and unrestrained murder of Tutsis by the governing Hutus, focusing on the deliberate role the government played in fostering Tutsi hate. Irwin Cotler, head of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, is quoted in a CBC news report saying: " … I think we have to guard against using that term in too many ways because then it will cease to have the singular importance and horror that it warrants." I would argue that to Indigenous women and girls, it describes exactly the horror that it warrants. And David Lametti, federal Minister of Justice and Attorney General, wants to leave discussion of the word to academics and focus on action, hoping to sidestep the issue completely.

Marion Buller, the head of the MMIWG commission, was appointed the first female First Nations judge in British Columbia after working years as a civil and criminal lawyer. Her credentials are impeccable. If she says, and the commission agrees, that Indigenous women are experiencing genocide, I am inclined to believe her. The report covers why in excruciating detail and there is a promise to back up the commission's claim of genocide in a separate document to be posted on the MMIWG website.

How do we explain the neglect of Canada's Indigenous people? As a parent, I can imagine the profound feeling of loss and despair arising from the '60s Scoop. As a mother of daughters and a friend to many women, I am beyond saddened by the number of missing Indigenous women and girls that appear on my social media feeds. And as a Canadian I am appalled that Indigenous people live in substandard housing and their children are denied the basics of health care, education and opportunity that the rest of Canada enjoys. In my opinion, the treatment of Canada's Indigenous population amounts to a crime against humanity and we are all culpable. These are just some of the "death by a million paper cuts" that constitute Buller's understanding of genocide. I am often embarrassed and angered by my non-Indigenous friends who refuse to recognize the damage done by colonization to the Indigenous population of Canada and think they should just "get over it."

Last year, many Canadians were horrified to learn that forced sterilization was practised on Indigenous mothers long after it was outlawed for the rest of the population. In 2015, a report in aptnnews.ca, brought attention to an Alberta policy of harvesting the organs of Indigenous children who die while in the care of the child welfare system, without requiring the consent of family or the band. This flies in the face of Indigenous understandings of death, if anyone cared to consider their beliefs. The Senate has been sitting on Bill C-262, which would ensure that Canadian laws are consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), since it was sent there for approval after passing the House earlier this year with a vote of 206-79. The bill addresses a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to "fully adopt and implement" the UN declaration. Only the Conservatives voted against it and it could die on the floor if not passed before the government adjourns. And lest we forget the nightmare of the Indigenous women who were targeted by Robert Pickton, reported missing and ignored by the Vancouver police.

The Canadian people need to hear how their governments, and by extensions, themselves, have wreaked inestimable harm to Indigenous women and their families. We need to unlearn the racial biases that have been the backbone of our treatment of Indigenous people since Europeans colonized Canada hundreds of years ago. We must face up to the truth, regardless of what it costs our standing in international affairs or how we see ourselves as a nation. This is the test of our humanity. And we are failing miserably.

Margaret Shkimba a is a writer who lives in Hamilton. She can be reached at menrvasofia@gmail.com or you can "Friend" her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @menrvasofia

Margaret Shkimba a is a writer who lives in Hamilton. She can be reached at menrvasofia@gmail.com or you can “Friend” her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @menrvasofia

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