The solutions at hand for aboriginal women

Posted on March 3, 2015 in Equality Debates – Full Comment
March 2, 2015.

The common knock against the Conservatives’ position on missing and murdered aboriginal women is that they don’t see the problem as “a sociological phenomenon” — as Stephen Harper put it in August — but as “crime.” Conservative ministers’ engagement with the issue does not reflect this simplistic approach, however.

Last week, in advance of Friday’s National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Ottawa, Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch highlighted several measures her government had taken or proposed: Money for shelters, “preventative actions, particularly focused on men and boys,” and “empowering” aboriginal women by making them “economically independent,” including through matrimonial property rights. At the roundtable itself, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt mentioned “community-driven projects to engage men and boys” in an “effort to denounce and prevent violence.”

Few reasonable people would find fault with these ideas with respect to any non-aboriginal community. Yet the ministers took heavy fire for them last week. Linking violence against women to male attitudes is 110% politically correct. But here it is verboten because it reflects a “racist” assumption that perpetrators of domestic violence against aboriginal women must be aboriginal men, according to Dawn Harvard, interim president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. The government was accused of “victim-blaming.”

It’s proof of how unhelpfully muddled the thinking at work here is that women’s rights activists actually seem willing to view the perpetrators of violence as victims. They might well be: Violent childhoods often beget violent adulthoods. But generally speaking, men are not afforded such sympathy. (Amidst the current wave of concern over violence against aboriginal women, it’s unclear how many Canadians are even aware that aboriginal men are murdered two-and-a-half times as often.)

In the lead-up to the roundtable, media reported on a new study from the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women — a sort of meta-analysis of 58 studies over the past decades, totalling 700 recommendations. In that several called for a national inquiry, media suggested this undercut the Conservatives’ case against one.

But beyond “no sociology please,” the Conservatives’ case is that there has been enough study. And indeed, those 58 reports contained plenty of very common-sense recommendations: Improved data-gathering (absurdly, the RCMP report was the first comprehensive snapshot of the problem); better access to transportation, shelters and safe housing; and improved relations with police. In recent weeks both aboriginal and non-aboriginal leaders have spoken of the need for comprehensive improvement in aboriginal Canadians’ lives: better and less crowded housing, education improvement, fighting addictions, job opportunities — all in the context of a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

There may well be things to learn about that specific problem from an inquiry. But the bulk of the problem is bound up in precisely those “sociological phenomena” — poverty, misery, addictions, hopelessness — that can be relied upon to produce violent outcomes in any society, of any ethnicity. Especially with the government in Ottawa dead set against an inquiry, activists would be better off advocating for measures we can all agree will help than trying to shame heretics into signing onto something they don’t believe in.

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One Response to “The solutions at hand for aboriginal women”

  1. Teve says:

    I’ve never understood what purpose this issue could have other than exploiting personal tragedies to push ethno-nationalist agendas. There simply is NO crisis here. While the activists hysterically stress that the number of “aboriginal” women is disproportionately high, the REALITY of the matter is that the numbers actually show that a) non-aboriginal women are more likely to be murdered; b) two-thirds of murder victims are MALES; c) a male is about 20-times more likely to be murdered than an aboriginal woman in this country. If this country is all about equality then why are people not asking for an inquiry into ALL missing and murdered people, rather than just one specific demographic???


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