The Native Women’s Association of Canada recently added 62 names to the list of missing or murdered aboriginal women and girls. The Sister’s in Spirit initiative is tasked with researching and reporting on cases of women and girls who have gone missing, In 2005, a five-year research, education and policy initiative supported by Status of Women Canada – to address the root causes, circumstances and trends of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. The NWAC works to point out the the systemic problems within the government and justice system when it come to dealing with violence against native women. An aboriginal woman aged 25 to 44 is 5 times more likely to die violently than an non aboriginal woman.

One of the issues that really needs to be dealt with is the negative stereotypes that native women face in the justice system. First Nations peoples make up 4% of Canada’s adult population but make 20% of the prison population this according the office of the correctional investigator. Native women make 33% of federally sentenced prisoners and though there are various problems attributed to the high percentage the federal government refused calls for a special commissioner to investigate the problem. This issue first came to light in 1990 when the native women made up 17% of federal prisoners, that number is now double. The issue is only getting worse according to the latest report on aboriginal offenders which has seen an increase of a 131% for federally incarcerated native women prisoners. You can find that report here, http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/rpt/oth-aut/oth-aut20091113-eng.aspx

On March 4th the Federal government dedicated 10 million over two years to deal with the issue of violence against native women but the future of the sisters in spirit seems to be finished also the Conservatives’ cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) shows that the government is taking a step back instead of a step forward! The Aboriginal Healing Foundation is a non-profit, Aboriginal-managed agency which supports community-based healing efforts addressing the intergenerational legacy of abuses from the residential school system. There have been many questionable cuts done by the Conservative Government, some of the notable ones being the Kelowna accord which was a series of agreements between the Government of Canada, First Ministers of the Provinces, Territorial Leaders, and the leaders of five national aboriginal organizations in Canada.

The Accord sought to improve the education, employment, and living conditions for Aboriginal peoples through governmental funding and other programs. The minority govt of Paul Martin’s Liberal’s was in charge when the agreement was put together but lost the election to Harper who said that there were committed to Kelowna but have since gone in another direction. In June 2006 Paul Martin tabled a private members bill, Bill C-292 An Act to Implement the Kelowna Accord which passed easily on March 21st by a 176 to 126 margin. The torries ignored the vote stating that they didn’t have to implement the bill because private members bills cannot force the government of the day to spend money.

Other cuts that have Canadians scratching their heads, First Nations and Inuit Tobacco Control Program, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada FUNDING REDUCTION, Natural Resources and Environment Climate Change Programs, including the One Tonne Challenge, 40 public information offices across the country, and several scientific and research programs on climate change, 40% BUDGET CUT, Status of Women Canada, SIGNIFICANT BUDGET CUT, Court Challenges Program ELIMINATED and there have been many more social and government programs that have had their funding cut or eliminated by the Conservative Government.

With all these cuts you would think that Harper just doesn’t care about women, so what is it. He makes these grandiose promises but makes cuts that make those promises hallow ones. You can’t devote 10 million over two years to protecting native women then cut funding to the native woman’s shelter of Montreal which helps protect battered women. On the 4th of October this year I will be getting a team together to set up for the Sisters In Spirit Vigil. Like the 3 years previous, communities across this country will come together to bring attention to the plight of native women. Unfortunately progress will only be made when the government creates a national task force made up of police, government and community groups all working together to bring an end to violence not just against native women but all women!