Violence against Indigenous women: paving the way forward for Canada’s Northwest Territories

The Native Women’s Association offered four recommendations to improve the lives of Indigenous women in Canada. (Kate Kyle/CBC)
Jane Weyallon is unequivocal in her assessment of the Canadian government’s colonial relationship with Indigenous women.

The president of the Native Women’s Association of the Northwest Territories calls it control and exploitation, since the beginning of colonization.

“It’s a genocide,” she said to members of the public and media gathered at the association’s office Wednesday morning in Yellowknife.

Weyallon was joined by the Native Women’s Association’s board of directors, support workers, elders and grieving families to lay out the organization’s plan to make sure the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls does not just “sit on a shelf and collect dust,” as one elder put it.

The report was released last week. It’s a 1,200-page document that includes 231 calls for justice. The Native Women’s Association was involved in pre-inquiry planning in the national inquiry, contributed oral and written submissions, and gave recommendations to the final report.

Those recommendations are:

  • Acknowledge the harm and national crisis.
  • Rebuild trust between service providers, governments and people.
  • Refocus programs and services so they are community centred.
  • Ensure accountability.

While Weyallon highlighted how colonial control has led to Indigenous women being 12 times more likely to go missing or be murdered than their non-Indigenous counterparts, a vacuum in law and order in some northern, remote communities exacerbates the problem.

She said RCMP detachments and women’s shelters in all N.W.T. communities would go a long way to keep women safe.

“There is unreported domestic violence and lateral violence happening in the communities,” said Weyallon. “I can use my region, the Tlicho region, as an example. We have Gameti and Wekweeti that have no police stations and we’ve heard from the leaders that there are a lot of issues within these communities.”

Northwest Territories MLAs have advocated for this issue for years. Weyallon said she’s also taken part in discussions in the hopes of getting RCMP detachments in more communities but the problem is always characterized as a lack of funding and manpower.

Weyallon said she has faith the MMIWG report will provide the political will to finally get some movement.

“I have to be optimistic, so I am,” she said.

RCMP detachments in communities don’t need to come in one big swoop, added Weyallon. There are ways to take baby steps.

Jane Weyallon is president of the Native Women’s Association of the NWT. (Randi Beers/CBC)

Behchoko, for example, had its own bylaw officer until 1989, an idea Weyallon would like to see revisited. She also pointed to citizens on patrol groups and other local security that could go a long way to make remote communities safer.

“[The government could] provide funding or training — having a young person in that role so basically they are helping the community and they are from there,” she said.

“It could be a career choice too in the long run. From there, maybe they would like to become an RCMP officer.”

A small table was adorned with the faces of Indigenous women in the Northwest Territories who have gone missing, or have been murdered. (Randi Beers/CBC)

It’s an idea reiterated by Lesa Semmler. She is a member of the MMIWG’s national family advisory circle and testified about her mother, who was murdered when she was eight years old.

She called on women in communities to step up and lead — with the funding, support and training from the government.

“With these recommendations I think it’s going to be up to women to put their names up for leadership roles and make these changes,” she said.

‘If I let this sit … then I’ve failed’

Caroline Cochrane, the minister responsible for the status of women, didn’t make any specific commitments to increase policing and shelters in the communities.

She did say the N.W.T. government is reading the report and preparing responses to each of the calls for justice.

“The goal for me is to keep this on the forefront,” she said. “If I let it sit for two years and not do anything, then I’ve failed.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Violence against Indigenous women: The legal and moral imperatives behind the inquiry’s calls for justice, CBC News

Finland: Indigenous Sámi community weighs in on Finland’s truth and reconciliation process, Yle News

Norway: Inuit, Sami leading the way in Indigenous self-determination, study says, CBC News

Sweden: Report sheds light on Swedish minority’s historic mistreatment, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

Randi Beers, CBC News

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