Small victory for aboriginal women

Posted on in Inclusion Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Compared to the brush-off its organizers got from Stephen Harper, the round-table on violence against aboriginal women is a signal achievement.
Feb 26 2015.   By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist

For two generations, aboriginal women have bounced between hope and heartbreak. Now they’re right in the middle.

A roundtable on violence against indigenous women begins on Friday. It falls short of the full-fledged national inquiry the Native Women’s Association sought. It will not dig into the root causes of the epidemic. Nor will it give a voice to the families and friends of the 1,181 missing and murdered aboriginal women.

But compared to the brush-off its organizers got from Stephen Harper 18 months ago, it is a signal achievement. The Prime Minister refused to acknowledge any “sociological” link between dramatic overrepresentation of aboriginal women in the homicide statistics and the miserable conditions in which they lived. Their deaths were merely crimes that the police had a “good track record” of solving.

A dialogue among the willing — all 13 provincial premiers and territorial leaders, two federal cabinet ministers, the leaders of the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, four smaller indigenous groups and a handful of bereaved families — may not offer the ultimate solution but it is the best option at this juncture.

A formal inquiry, launched grudgingly by a government that didn’t believe there was problem, might have produced an excellent report. But there is little chance Harper would have implemented its recommendations.

Its hearings would have been eclipsed in the short-term by a federal election campaign. Over the medium term its deliberations would have delayed the moment of reckoning by months, possibly years. The longer its investigation lasted, the greater the risk the current resolve to tackle the long-standing tragedy would dissipate.

Conversely, suspending the conversation entirely in the run-up to next October’s election would have been a squandered opportunity. The next seven months are an ideal time for the premiers, territorial leaders, First Nations chiefs and aboriginal women to establish common ground, identify concrete improvements they can make and build relationships that will be vital for long-term progress, no matter who holds the reins of power.

Should Canadians elect Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau — both the New Democrats and Liberals have promised a national inquiry — as their next prime minister, the roundtable will act as a useful precursor. If Harper secures another mandate, it will at least provide other policy-makers a vehicle to work around him.

It is regrettable the provinces had to take the lead and disappointing Ottawa refused even to provide funding for the roundtable.

But the participants can still make substantive headway:

Aboriginal chiefs can set the tone by making the safety of women in their communities a priority. Perry Bellegarde, the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations has signaled his willingness to make the first move.

The provinces and territories can bolster the programs aboriginal peoples have already developed to break the multi-generational cycle of violence, treat addictions and address mental illness.

Federal ministers can find resources within their departmental budgets to help (for example, Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch announced this month that her department will subsidize local and national projects to end violence against women.)

Municipalities, school boards, hospitals and courts, all of which fall under provincial jurisdiction, can incorporate aboriginal knowledge into their services. Many public officials don’t understand the cultural norms of First Nations. They don’t know how to meet clients’ needs while respecting their identity.
Policy-makers at all levels can take their cue from victims and their advocates, resisting the urge to take over or impose solutions.

Everyone at the table can make a commitment to stay the course regardless of the political cycle, budgetary pressures and the posture of the prime minister.

It is understandable that some aboriginal women see this roundtable as a let-down. They longed to take a giant step. This is a baby step.

But they’ve come a long way with baby steps. They propelled their cause to the forefront. They finally got an accurate death toll from the RCMP. They convinced three out of every four Canadians an inquiry was necessary. They shamed male aboriginal leaders into joining them. They won the support of every government leader except Harper. And now a national dialogue has begun.

It is a compromise. But at this point in the journey, it is the right one.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/columnists/2015/02/26/small-victory-for-aboriginal-women-goar.html >

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