Dear readers, We are finally ready to move into Volume 1b which focuses on Healing. The first eight chapters (Volume 1a) are raw and shocking, exposing the systematic discrimination and oppression of Indigenous people in Canada since the time of colonization. Ongoing racism and sexism have resulted in high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
These truths, of course, were known by the many survivors who lacked credibility and confidence from decades of marginalization. Others in the system chose to maintain status quo that the dominant nation somehow earned or deserved its privileges. The greater majority of citizens perhaps were simply unaware, never really questioning a world that seemed apart from their daily life. Nevertheless, all Canadians must acknowledge the historical reality and support a conscious attempt to restore equality.
Reclaiming Power and Place, the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, was released to the Canadian public in June 2019 after three months of design preparation (Dec 2015 to Feb 2016) and over two years of hearings (Sept 2016 to December 2018). The Inquiry was one of 94 Calls for Action resulting from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report released in June 2015 after seven years of study (from 2008.) One could say the MMIWG report was a long time coming. Now it hopefully marks the beginning of a long healing and restorative process.
Section 1 (Chapters 1-4) speaks of Establishing a New Framework. Genocide defines the systemic destruction of Indigenous people as a nation and with it the sacredness of their women and girls. Sacredness has multi-faceted meanings: Creator-giving, Creator-centered thinking, using gifts for the good of humanity, sharing and bringing new life in community, encompassing the male/female balance and following the teachings of kindness, respect, truth, honesty, humility, love and wisdom.
Genocide, the destruction of essential foundations, occurred and continues to occur across many dimensions: political – with the disintegration of traditional territories; social – with movement restricted and participation in government denied; cultural – with children stripped of language and tradition in residential schools; economic – with containment on reserves and ongoing marginalization; biological – with measures aimed at decreasing birthrates through poor health services; physical – with few sanctions for rampant violence; and moral -with ongoing racism and sexism creating an atmosphere of unworthiness.
The Inquiry also expanded the understanding of violence to include colonial dehumanization, the cultural violence of forced assimilation with embedded racism, and the institutional violence of “status quo” perpetuated by multiple systems. Creating space for an Indigenous perspective means reestablishing strong contemporary institutions based on Indigenous values and knowledge systems. Relationships were essential to the Indigenous way of knowing which includes connections to ancestors, the land, and future generations.
The final report identified four dimensions of oppression and used this framework throughout:
- historical multi-generational and inter-generational trauma resulting from loss of land, forced relocation, and residential schools
- social and economic marginalization evidenced by systemic poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and barriers to education
- status quo and institutional lack of will which individualize systemic problems, and
- ignoring the inherent expertise and agency of Indigenous women.
Solutions need to recognize the rights of culture, health, security, justice, and self-determination. Indigenous women traditionally maintained the right to live free from violence, a sense of power not shared by European women. Colonization interfered with land stewardship and replaced the protective leadership roles of women with hierarchical authority. As Indigenous peoples were economically marginalized, women experienced additional dehumanization because of patriarchy.
Section 2 (Chapters 5 -8) addresses Encountering the Oppression.
The Right to Culture explores how colonization, through concerted efforts at assimilation, altered the relationships of Indigenous people to their culture and identity. Subsequent struggles with poverty and other challenges were compounded by lack of access to familial, community, and cultural supports. Canada is called to condemn and eliminate racial discrimination.
The Right to Health explores how historical trauma impacts health and safety, how marginalization creates additional barriers in accessing safety and health resources, how messages of deficiency from colonialism undermine mental wellness and spiritual health, and how unresolved trauma is normalized and contributes to chronic health problems.
The Right to Security explores how historical trauma contributes to women using silence as self-protection; how marginalization contributes to lack of housing, barriers to education and employment, and lack of supportive infrastructure; many other barriers that limit access to safety services; and the need to look beyond the colonial system in crafting solutions. Safety includes upholding social, economic, political, cultural, health, and justice rights.
The Right to Justice is a multi-layered chapter. It emphasizes that a human right approach involves focusing on the underlying causes, identifying the vulnerable as well as those responsible for addressing issues, and putting systems in place for resolution. The Indigenous concept of justice is about people keeping each other safe. The under-reporting of interpersonal violence is well documented among all victims of crime; marginalization creates further barriers; police apathy has been recognized in many cases, women in the sex trade are often criminalized; and the Canadian justice system, based on settler-colonial values, fails to include Indigenous concepts of justice.
The above summary provides a brief reflection of the depth and insight of over 700 thoughtful pages. We need to find solutions that combat violence by addressing healing. Cultural safety has emerged as a foundation of wellness. True healing requires long-term and engaged support, moving beyond commemoration to social justice. These are explored in the next three chapters.