Monday, November 2, 2009

FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-ONE


Everytime I see that figure, my vision blurs and my throat tightens and burns with tears, and I feel my heart begin to pound.

Five hundred and twenty one missing or murdered indigenous women in this country.

If this was proportional to the rest of the population the figure would be 18,000.

What would happen if there were 18,000 missing or murdered white women in this country? There would be screaming and gnashing of teeth and police forces pressed into action with task forces and resources dedicated to finding these women or solving their murders. The media would be on the story night and day, we would be inundated with their pictures and their stories and everyone would be saying, we have to do something, we have to stop this atrocity.

But because it’s indigenous women there is only silence. Because these victims and their families are powerless, because it’s just another Indian – there is only silence. No outrage, no questioning, no resources put behind finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. Only the pain and the suffering felt by these women’s families and all of us left behind in their communities. And this burden of suffering is done in silence. Because that’s what we do, what we have always done.

I say that we have to be silent no more. We have to be loud and angry and vocal about it. Because this has to stop. This is utter bullshit, that these women remain missing.

And of course there’s this weird perception that they somehow brought it on themselves. They were working in the sex trade, they were out a bar, they were hitchhiking…That somehow they were asking for it. There’s this underlying ugly reality to all of this that pisses me off so completely, that somehow indigenous women aren’t good enough or smart enough or worthy enough to remain safe.

Every single one of these women was a daughter, a sister, a mother, a friend, an aunt, a cousin. These women meant something to someone in their lives.

This just makes me want to find out who is responsible for each and every one of these disappearances and torture them with my bare hands in all of the messy methods recorded by the Jesuits in the Relations. I hate feeling this way. But this is part of the reality of being onkwehonwe in this stolen country. Our lives obviously do not have the same value as a white woman’s.

I found this dry but completely correct quote from “Mapping Violence: A Family Violence Prevention Planner” put out by FREDA:

“The destruction of indigenous cultures and communities has resulted in an intergenerational cycle of violence which is marked by the high levels of sexual abuse within Aboriginal communities, and the internalization of violence among those who are affected. This internalization is evident in the high levels of substance abuse and suicide rates within the communities. However, the situation is also compounded by the extreme poverty experienced by Aboriginal peoples both within and outside of reserves, as well as their sense of disenfranchisement and dependency.

"For Aboriginal women, the experience of violence within their communities leaves little choice. Faced with the lack of available services and resources, many women leave the reserve to escape the abuse. They come to urban areas in search of safety only to be further victimized by poverty and the abuse they face on the streets. Many turn to prostitution as a way of survival. It is estimated that the mortality rate for girls and women in prostitution is 40 times the national average (Davis, 1994). The suicide rate for adolescent Aboriginal girls is 8 times the national average of non-Aboriginal adolescent girls (National Forum on Health, 1997).”

There’s a quote from the Cheyenne that I always remember: “A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is done, no matter how brave its warriors or strong its weapons.”

Andrea Smith writes in her book “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Genocide” that the continued abduction, rape and murder of indigenous women is a sign that far from being over, colonization continues, with its final goal that of genocide in order to complete the task of settlement. The original people must be removed from the land in order that clear title can be transferred. As long as there are indigenous people here that “ownership” can never be clearly claimed. And what better way than the removal of those persons who confer lineage, heritage, and culture?

We should have a condolence ceremony for every single indigenous woman on that terrible list, and for every single other woman in this country who is missing and murdered. We should have a means to remove this terrible grief. The Peacemaker was wise in giving us the condolence ceremony; grief causes more misery and moves people into doing terrible things, to seek revenge and to burn your entire life away in hatred. I don’t want to do that. I want justice and sanity to return to us, to our communities, and I want the families of these five hundred and twenty-one women to have some peace.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.