February the 14th has become synonymous with missing and murdered Native women, marches and vigils take place all across the country and like the sisters in spirit which takes place on October 4th, questions still remain. The most common question that I hear as both a journalist and an activist is why? Why is this happening? Ellen Gabriel the former president of the Quebec Native Women Association has said that violence against Native women is directly linked to colonialism, when she spoke at this years march in Montreal. “It isn’t just 500 women, 600 women, 800 women it’s millions! Since the time of contact, it’s been about economics, a land grab and the best way to destroy a nation, a nation who lived sustainably on mother earth was to attack the women.”
Gabriel went on to mention the report from Human Rights Watch detailing the abuse by the RCMP. HRW had spent a decade talking with Native women and girls about violence against Native women and how the RCMP had failed them but also that they were victims of police brutality, over policing and sexual abuse. This report is clearly another black eye for the national police force who is still reeling from the sexual abuse scandal involving female RCMP officers which came to light in 2011. Gabriel asked the question “Who are we supposed to go to?” when referring to the to RCMP.
Prime Minster Stephen Harper had this to say when asked in the House, “If Human Rights Watch, the Liberal party or anyone else is aware of serious allegations involving criminal activity, they should give that information to the appropriate police so that they can investigate it” It’s this quote by the PM that has many asking why should cops be investigating cops? HRW has since fired back at Harper for telling abused Native women to “Get on with it” which begs the question, how do you tell a police officer that another officer raped her? In my opinion that would be like asking the Klu Klux Klan to take a survey to see if any of their members are racists. I mean seriously, how are police officers supposed to remain unbiased?
Many of the speakers believe that a national inquiry is the only way to get answers and some measure of peace for the families who lost loved ones. But there is also a need for a national civilian body to investigate police misconduct claims says Gladys Radek the founder for Walk4Justice based out of Vancouver. Radek who spoke at the march talked about how she had been raped three times by police officers and how she had lost her niece Tamara Chipman who disappeared along the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia in 2005. Radek had taken my film partner and I to the site where the Pickton farm had been just last year.
Bridget Tolley, who founded the Sisters in Spirit back in 2005-06 and helped found the Families of the Sisters in Spirit just over two years ago after the Harper government cut funding to the sisters in spirit. Tolley of Kitigan Zibi, QC, lost her mother Gladys Tolley when she was struck and killed by a Sûreté du Québec cruiser in 2001. Bridget is afraid that she may never see justice but hopes her work will prevent others from going through what she has. “ We are going to continue to fight for the families, we are going to fight until Stephen Harper does something about this issue because we are not going anywhere!”
Though many marchers demand that the Harper government do something to address the growing violence against Native women many believe that will only happen if there is a change in government which brings us to the question, will the NDP or the Liberals do anything if and when they get into power? Bridget Tolley mentioned Evidence to Action, the group that replaced the Sisters in Spirit, what I want to know is why was evidence to action even needed when the Native Woman’s Association of Canada had an already established data base ready to be used to solve cases?
Over the last 7 years that I have been a part of this, there has been one underlying message, my sister, mom, grandmother, niece or auntie has disappeared. The police haven’t done anything and now the trail has gone cold. It is a common message and the grief is common too for all family members want is justice but it continues to allude them. One thing that hasn’t stayed common is the faces of the 1000’s that march, there increasing in number. Native and non Native alike, women and men, their voices saying enough is enough. One of the many things I took from that march was something Gladys said, that for every woman that goes missing child loses their mother and a mother loses their child. Something to think about, for whatever happens, it is clear that those 1000’s that marched on February 14th is that this issue is not going away and the people are far from IdleNoMore!