Without warning the Harper government cut funding to Native Women’s shelters in spite of evidence they are desperately needed. The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) may have to close its doors even as you read this editorial.

A study of Aboriginal women, conducted by the Ontario Native Women’s Association in 1989, found that 80% of Aboriginal women had personally experienced family violence. Fifty-three per cent of Aboriginal women who responded to a survey conducted by the Indigenous Women’s Collective indicated they had been physically abused. Seventy-four per cent of those women indicated they did not seek help.

In the intervening years these statistics remain relatively unchanged.

A Statistics Canada document tells us: about 21% of Aboriginal people, in comparison to 6% of non-Aboriginal people, report experiencing some form of physical or sexual violence by a spouse, Aboriginal women (54%) are more likely than non-Aboriginal women (37%) to report the most severe forms of spousal violence, such as being beaten, choked, threatened with a gun or knife, or sexually assaulted, and Aboriginal women are about 3.5 times more likely to experience some form of spousal violence than non-Aboriginal women.

To a visitor to Canada it would seem strange then that the current government would cut funding to one of the few areas where Aboriginal women can seek help. But the federal government has cut two-thirds of the funding for the NWSM.

This happened when they know the dangers of leaving a violent relationship. National data indicates that separation is a particularly dangerous time for women. Although more married women are killed by their spouses, the rate of homicide is greatest for women after separation. Nationally, almost half of the murders committed by ex-spouses happen in the first two months of separation and 80% of murders by ex-spouses happen within one year of separating.

These statistics often means the loss of a matrimonial home and consequently relocation resulting in broken community bonds. It takes a great deal for a woman to uproot herself from her community but sometimes the abuse whether it is emotional, spiritual, mental, physical or sexual is just too much and they seek a way out.

Now one more door may be closing in their faces. This move by the Harper government has Shelter board members and employees scrambling to find money or to have funding reinstated to their programs.

The federal government has pointed out that it is funding a different program to the tune of $199 million. Though it is generous it seems to be made on the backs of marginalized Aboriginal women who already carry heavy burdens.

From the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba one reads, “The victimization of Aboriginal women accelerated with the introduction after Confederation of residential schools for Aboriginal children.”

With this one wonders why the government can even say they are addressing the residential school legacy.

In Fall 2007, the National Council of Welfare’s report, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Children and Youth: Time to Act, noted “inadequate social assistance rates make it difficult for Aboriginal women and their children to leave or avoid abusive relationships. Poverty and meagre assistance rates contribute to women’s vulnerability to economic and physical abuse by leaving lower-income women without many options for survival.”

This is what the impacts will be with the loss of the NWSM services to the women currently staying at the shelter. If it closes down, they and their children will be homeless and might be forced to go back to their old situations for lack of options. If they were being abused before they run the risk of being beaten again or worse. The proof is in the statistics. The Conservatives can’t ignore this truth. We need to make them see it and hear it. Kudos to the Liberals for bringing this up in Parliament.

But words on behalf of women have gone unheard by a cold-hearted and obviously patriarchal Harper administration. Tell all MPs to man up and do what’s right by reinstating funding for Native Women’s Shelters.