Demanding real justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women

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“Two years,” observed Idle No More organizer Melissa Mollen-Dupuis, speaking about the mandate of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. “That’s two years of women dying, women disappearing, young girls being put into pimps’ hands waiting at the airports. Because they feel Indigenous women are free game; because nobody’s going to believe or understand or even look for them. That’s how one of the most prolific serial killers in history could be active in Canada for so long – because First Nations women didn’t count in the eyes of police who were investigating.”

It was a sobering assessment, made as Mollen-Dupuis joined other activists, family members and their supporters at the annual vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women October 4 in Montreal.

“Over that two years, is the money going to go to programs,” she added, “or is it going to go to organizing this big commission? Is it going to be a selfie opportunity, or is it going to bring real justice for Indigenous women? There’s a lack of shelters in different communities. Or in some cases it’s been police who’ve been at the base of these women’s victimization. What’s going to happen to them?”



(Top left: Ellen Gabriel, Bottom right: Melissa Mollen-Dupuis)

Last year, with only weeks to go before the federal election, she was imagining the possibility of a future without former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper during her speech to the crowd. This year, she focused on Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government and its commitment to Indigenous issues.

“There has been a nod, a recognition of the need for change,” Mollen-Dupuis said. But she questioned whether the Trudeau government would actually implement the change that’s needed. “We feel the honeymoon is starting to be over with the new government. We did get the inquiry we wanted, but does it have the backbone it needs to change situations for Native women? I find it very decorative for the moment, not very structured. It kind of scares me.”

The lack of communication from the commission of inquiry was a complaint that several people repeated throughout the evening’s events – at the moment, there is little idea what the commissioners are doing, or what the inquiry will look like.

Meanwhile, the Cree Health Board’s Victoria Wabano shared the news about police reopening an investigation into a missing woman’s case. Wabano also reported progress on creating inland and coastal women’s shelters in Eeyou Istchee.

Activist and vigil organizer Ellen Gabriel, a member of Kanesatake’s Turtle Clan, noted that the history of attacks on Indigenous women is as old as European colonization, which targeted women to destroy First Nations community structure. She demanded that politicians be required to learn Canada’s colonial history.

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Speaking to the Nation, Gabriel said she is reserving judgment on the Liberal government, which rose to power on huge promises to Indigenous people. “I think the government’s doing a bit of backpedalling on some of its election promises,” she said. “There’s no movement on the implementation of the Declaration [on the Rights of Indigenous People].”

Gabriel said that the national inquiry started on a sour note by appointing a non-Inuk to represent Inuit women, which has resulted in an outcry from Inuit organizations. As well, she was uneasy about the idea of holding a pre-inquiry.

“To ask the families to once again be a witness, and once again tell the stories, is retraumatizing them in a system that has not been friendly to the lives of their loved ones, that has proven time and time again that the system is not working for us,” she said.

Gabriel still hopes the inquiry will ultimately produce strong recommendations that will satisfy families, and which will be unsparing in their examination of the justice system, the police and the effects of colonialism in Canada.

“And they’d better implement those recommendations,” Gabriel said. “Because if they don’t, this younger generation will not stand for it. There will be rioting in the streets – because you can only tolerate so much. We as a people have never resorted to violence, ever. We have always been in defense of our lives. But if Canada really wants to be this world leader, they have to start putting action behind the words that they promised.”

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