Violence against Canada’s Indigenous women, the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in the judicial system, Kelowna, the trafficking and prostitution of Aboriginal girls and the general population’s belligerent indifference to all of it. These were just a handful of topics that were discussed when 150 First Nations women congregated in Yellowknife on July 29-31 at the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s second National Aboriginal Women’s Summit.
The goal of the summit, according to NWAC president Beverly Jacobs, was to go through each of the 140 recommendations that were defined at the first summit held in the spring of 2007 in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and prepare an action to implement them.
“A lot of it was about education or the lack of education,” said Jacobs, who would like to see a “Native Studies 101” introduced into the education system not just for the purposes of sensitizing the population to Aboriginal issues but also to help shape policymaking and legislations when it comes to Canada’s First Nations.
A prime example of this was the need for the training of frontline workers in the justice system from police to judges to lawyers as not only are Aboriginal women over-represented in the judicial system but there are no resources to train these workers. Addressing the underlying issues that lead so many to be imprisoned, such as their lack of education and resources, loss of cultural identity and the lack of Aboriginal legal representation, were also actions put forward.
Though Prime Minister Harper and the provincial premiers have committed to a dialogue this upcoming fall to address the country’s “Aboriginal situation,” Jacobs fears that it is going to be another situation where her people will be discussed without the presence of a single one sitting at the table.
In her mind it was pretty much the same thing when it came to Northern Affair’s media manipulation and shameless self-promotion when it came to matrimonial land rights and repealing the Canadian Human Rights Act.
“Very specific recommendations that we as Aboriginal women made to the government about matrimonial real property that were not implemented in the legislation,” said Jacobs.
Not only were the voices of those she represents not heard but in both scenarios Jacobs feels the government went ahead without any regard to Aboriginal rights or treaty rights in situations where traditional systems could have produced more solutions.
Like any other recent Aboriginal political gathering, talk of The Kelowna Accord echoed throughout the summit’s hallways as did its feasibility in implementation.
“I can only go with what the women are saying and they are saying that they want it implemented. Until there is another process that we can use, this is what we have right now,” said Jacobs.
Last year NWAC came out with the horrifying statistic that there were over 500 Aboriginal women in this country that were either missing or murdered and that their cases were not being pursued. Since that announcement not only has Canada received intense scrutiny from the international community but rather than seeing a turnaround, the numbers keep climbing which Jacobs says stems from “a lack of political will.”
What is more alarming however is the frequency of the trafficking and prostitution of Canada’s Aboriginal girls.
According to a 2007 study by Anupriya Sethi that appeared in the First Peoples Child and Family Review, titled “Domestic Sex Trafficking of Aboriginal Girls in Canada: Issues and Implications”: “First Nations girls are overrepresented in prostitution with an especially high number of youth ranging from 14% – 60% across various regions in Canada. National data in Canada reveals that 75% of Aboriginal girls under the age of 18 have experienced sexual abuse, 50% are under 14, and almost 25% are younger than 7 years of age. In Vancouver alone, 60% of sexually exploited youth are Aboriginal. One key informant [an unnamed frontline worker] reported that children as young as 9 are sexually exploited in Saskatoon and the average age of being forced into prostitution is 11 or 12.”/
Though Jacobs has been in talks with Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire who chairs the Committee against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth, she is still trying to fathom what is more outrageous about the situation. Whether it is worse that this situation exists and very little is being done about it or that there is an industry out there where Aboriginal children are a commodity and the media has not picked up on it.
Whereas the progress made at the summit was undeniable, its purpose was for the voices of Aboriginal women to be heard. While the host, Northwest Territories Premier Floyd Roland was in attendance, no other premier could attend because a cabinet retreat was called at the same time as the summit.
“I was actually thinking about this relationship we have with this government and sometimes I equate it to an abusive relationship. They insult us. They ignore us. They are silent on issues. They turn it around and blame it on us. Those are all sure signs of an abuser,” said Jacobs.