Can you picture something for me?
You’re fifteen again. Just like that. What was it like for you? Who was your biggest crush? Who was your secret crush? Did you like school? Did you have braces? Did you make embarrassing fashion choices? Were your biggest concerns somewhere in the ballpark of math, English, science, or gym? Had you started drinking or smoking or fighting with your parents? Did you worry about your future? The fact that in a few short years the expectation was that you’d go off to college or university and start the rest of your life... did it scare you? Were you excited for the freedom? Were you excited for the future?
I’ll wager that when you were fifteen, you hadn’t spent a night on the street. You probably hadn’t tried any hard drugs. You probably didn’t go missing, and if you’re picturing yourself at fifteen right now, you certainly didn’t turn up dead.
But Tina did.
As a country, we’ve known for years now that a startling amount of Indigenous women have been going missing and are often found dead. In Canada in 2015, Indigenous women made up 24% of female homicide victims. Indigenous people only accounted for 4.9% of Canada’s total population in 2016. This means that Indigenous women are grossly overrepresented within this statistic. They make up almost a quarter of Canada’s female homicide victims, but just a sliver of its population.
I remember in 2014 when Tina Fontaine's body was pulled out of the Red River. I remember being horrified to read about the few details of her death that were released. I remember feeling so much sadness for this girl who had lost her father and been placed in a care system full of neglect and loneliness. Her murder currently remains unsolved. She was fifteen.
At the time, a lot of articles delved into her disappearance, obsessing over how the ‘troubled’ teenager spent her final days. How many articles involving missing and murdered Indigenous women have used the words troubled, mentally ill, and addict to describe her? Whether these words are used to dehumanize Indigenous women or if they are merely the evidence of surface research into the complexity of their lives, this terminology conceals a greater problem.
Indigenous women are mistreated, misunderstood, and let down by this country. Many begin their lives in Canada’s broken foster care system, placed there due to racial bias and discrimination. They struggle with poverty, poor housing, lack of clean or safe drinking water, underfunded education, and racism.
I think a lot of people saw the inquiry as a solution, but that was not the purpose of it. For the first time since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did their inquiry into the lasting effects of Residential Schools, the inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous women allowed for Indigenous voices to be heard. With the report published, we finally have a better understanding of a problem within this country.
The report of the inquiry includes some calls to action, most of them asking the government to provide Indigenous people with things most Canadians take for granted - such as access to education, employment, health care, housing, transit and transportation. The full list of inquiries can be found here. So far, there has been zero action.
You would think that while the inquiry was in the public eye, there would be fewer cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, but that was not the case. Between 2016 and 2019—while the inquiry was ongoing—there were at least 3 deaths of Indigenous women and girls a month.
The final report from the inquiry claims that the deaths of Indigenous women and girls is race-based genocide. That word alone should shock people. Genocide. We have to remember the weight of that word, where it has been declared in the past. It is not used lightly.
In times of empowerment for women and the #MeToo movement, Indigenous women are left behind by a nation that claims to be kind and safe. If men in power are the ones who get away with assault against women, are women in power the only ones we're watching out for?
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