Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a grassroots Montreal campaign, shifted the focus of Valentine’s Day away from flowers and Hallmark cards this year to address the mistreatment, violence and disappearance of Native women across the country.
Hundreds of supporters braved -30 temperatures during a march from Cabot Square down Sainte-Catherine Street to Phillips Square. They were accompanied by the Buffalo Hat Singers powwow drums and groups of Dené, Mohawk, Cree and other First Nations communities.
The goal was to raise awareness of the issues regarding the treatment of Native women in Canada, which continue to be ignored by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) distributed sheet compiled on the phenomenon of violence against Aboriginal women, documenting 583 cases of missing or murdered First Nations, Inuit and Métis women in Canada alone. According to their stats from 2000 to 2008, Aboriginal women make up 3% of Canada’s population and yet disproportionally represent 10% of the country’s female homicides. Almost half of the cases reported by the NWAC are unresolved, with a mere 53% clearance rate amongst them, compared to Canada’s national clearance rate which sits at 84%.
Research conducted by the NWAC shows that Indigenous women are almost three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Aboriginals: 16.5% of their cases involved offenders without any previous connection to the woman or girl attacked, while 17% of offenders are acquaintances of the victim and 23% are current or former romantic partners.
Numbers show that the majority of disappearances or murders take place in urban areas (70% of those disappeared and 60% of those found murdered) while only 7% of those missing and 13% of those murdered occurred in Native communities. 54% of these cases were reported in British Columbia and Alberta, 29% in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, 6% in the North and 2% in the Atlantic provinces.
Additional statistics given on the Missing Justice website (www.missingjustice.ca) are equally troubling: 75% of Aboriginal girls under 18 have experienced some form of sexual abuse; 90% of teen urban sex-workers in Canada are Aboriginal; and 60% of known perpetrators of violence against Native women are white men.
The February 14 demonstration was the sixth annual event in Montreal to call attention to missing and murdered women. A prayer and candlelight vigil at Phillips Square followed the march, which was escorted by police and shut down different areas along St. Catherine Street.