Since there is an election coming up within the next 4 weeks we have decided to spend that time talking about what elections mean for us: first nations. Each week we will focus on one particular issue facing first nations and share our opinion on one of the five federal parties (yes, I count the Green party, because all our voices need to be heard!).
When Shannon Alexander, 17, and Maisy Odjick, 16 went missing near Maniwaki Que, on Sept. 6 no one said “boo!” It was a week later when the mainstream media finally picked the story and reported that the two teens were missing: no Amber alert, no massive search with hundreds of volunteers, no media and police. There was no Victoria Stafford-like attention to the case. Stafford was the 8 year old Canadian girl abducted from Woodstock, Ontario on April 8, 2009, and murdered. She was last seen on security footage walking with Terri-Lynne McClintic who was convicted in her murder and sentenced to life.
The things that bothered me most about the differences between the Alexander/Odjick and Stafford cases was how they were treated by the police, media and public. Little blond girl goes missing and they call out the army, two native teens go missing and… nothing! The Stafford case was tragic, but what’s even more tragic is that not all abduction cases are treated like that of Victoria Stafford’s. From what I’ve seen, cases are not always judged on their merits, but on skin color and social class. How else can you explain the thousands of natives that have gone missing or have been murdered since the 1980’s? Which brings me to my next point: what does it take for the government, police forces and justice system to act? I mean, really act?
I was part of a press scrum involving Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, and I asked him about the Sisters in Spirit and a National task force to investigate missing and murdered native women. He said, “You can’t have a country where 500+ people go missing and there’s no judicial attempt to find out the truth. Finding out the truth is an homage to these women so to make sure that this doesn’t happen to their daughters!” When asked if the Sisters in Spirit would be part of that plan? “Absolutely! The Sisters in Spirit has done wonderful work. The Harper government cuts them and makes false promises. We think they do good work and we want to sustain that support for them!”
Since the Harper government came to power, not just native women have suffered because of his policies, but all women. By not directly addressing the issue of missing and murdered women Harper has made it clear that all women in Canada don’t count! You just have to take a look at the cancellation of the national child-care program, the product of years of negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces’ women’s groups. Then there’s the closure of 12 of 16 regional offices of the Status of Women Canada across the country. It has also eliminated funding for the Status of Women Independent Research Fund.
In 2010 the Harper government (he likes it if we refer to the government that way) allocated ten million dollars to the issue of missing and murdered native women, but he did not renew funding for the Sisters in Spirit initiative, whose database compiled the cases of nearly 600 native women. I understand that we need to be conservative in these recession era times, but this is conservatism on crack! Especially when instead of taking care of the people, he’s spending billions on fighter jets and giving corporations tax breaks, all the while talking about being fiscally responsible!
Which leads me into my critique of the Conservative party in this election. The Conservatives have been power for 5 years, and what have they done? We know that they have proven not to be a friend to women, but what else? The Native Healing foundation: funding slashed. Native policing: funding slashed. Montreal Native Woman’s shelter: funding slashed – and there is much more! Then there are the scandals that have to led to contempt of Parliament charges. Do we want another conservative government that blatantly disregards the rules, or should we go with a party that has the vision to see what needs to be done in this country?
Irkar Beljaars is the producer
of Native Soidarity News on
Ckut radio and the Longhouse
on podbean.com. You can reach him
@ firstname.lastname@example.org or Mohawk_Voice