The Canadian government is short-changing its Aboriginal peoples, and in particular Aboriginal women, according to Native Women’s Association of Canada president Beverly Jacobs, so much so that it’s time to hit the streets with placards again.
The new federal budget came as no surprise to Jacobs as, in her opinion, “with this government there has never been any real commitments to Aboriginal people and specifically money enough for women in general. So, that leaves Aboriginal women again totally out of the picture.”
Though the 2008 budget made provisions for clean water on reserves, according to NWAC it is simply not enough. In a public statement on behalf of NWAC, Jacobs said, “What is the point of improving standards for drinking water on reserves, when there is a housing crisis with no access to water? When this government chose not to honour the Kelowna Accord, it promised an alternative plan for Aboriginal peoples. This budget delivers small investments, but we are still awaiting a ground-breaking strategy to finally pull the most marginalized segment of the Canadian population out of its current mire and onto a path towards prosperity.”
Housing is a major issue for Aboriginal communities across the country but despite criticism from even the United Nations, Canada has yet to move on socialized housing on reserves, as opposed to the funding provided for market housing in 2007. When asked if Canada was trying to bury the housing issue, Jacobs responded, “Well of course! It’s not just a housing issue, it’s the land-rights issue. It’s the land-claims issue across the country that First Nations and Aboriginal communities are wanting to resolve.”
For as much as she was glad that the water issue was being addressed, the fact that individuals would need a house to access it is still distressing for Jacobs as she believes it is still a much larger issue.
Housing and funding for women were not the only issues that irked Jacobs about the new budget. “What I find the most stunning is that Canada is doubling international aid to $5 billion, which is honourable. But why is it not doubling its efforts in combating poverty in its own back yard?”
When asked if this was an international P.R. move, Jacobs responded, “I have been doing a lot of work at the UN with Indigenous peoples across the world. The perception from other peoples in different countries is that we have no problems here in this country, especially when it comes to human rights.”
With all of the work that Canada does abroad in terms of helping impoverished and war-torn nations, there is a perception that the country is left-leaning and accommodates its own needy. But that has not been the case. Citing Canada’s rejection and efforts to lobby against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Jacobs expressed extreme frustration. “We are stuck in this place called Canada, which to me is totally embarrassing when you are going to a UN meeting and Indigenous people are asking, what is going on in your country?” Jacobs said.
While the lack of funding was a disappointment to NWAC, the fact that Canada announced funding to hire 2500 new police officers could be positive in that it might prompt resolutions in the over 500 cases of missing and/or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. At the same time, Jacobs said, “whether or not that actually happens is another story.
“Aboriginal women are specific targets of violence because they are Aboriginal and because they are women, so they have two strikes against them,” said Jacobs, speaking of the need for more protection for Aboriginal women. These remarks came hot off the heels of British Columbia’s decision to not pursue a second trial for convicted serial killer Robert Pickton, a decision that has NWAC up in arms.
Though Pickton was already tried and convicted for the murders of six women, he was to be tried a second time for 20 other women and the majority of Pickton’s victims were of Aboriginal descent. The trial would have gone through if the crown had accepted Pickton’s appeal but it was denied leaving the families of 20 murdered victims without justice or even a day in court. “We will never know if it actually was Pickton who killed those women. There is a huge gap there and a long process of healing for those families. I have heard from some of the families and how disappointed they are. Where do they go from here?”
To add insult to injury, this most recent development in the Pickton case has only highlighted the vulnerability of Aboriginal women and the lack of interest in terms of law enforcement when it comes to finding and prosecuting the perpetrators. “You know they are getting away with it. For example, let’s say we have 400 murders of Aboriginal women across the country – I am just picking a number out of the air – of which 300 are unresolved. There is either one serial killer who is after 300 women or there are 300 perpetrators out there who are saying ‘yahoo! I am getting away with this,’ and I am just so tired of it,” said Jacobs.
Case in point, on February 20, Vancouver advocate for sex-trade workers, Jamie Lee Hamilton, released a list of 26 women missing or murdered in Metro Vancouver since February 2002 and made statements to the media on how the problem has only become worse since Pickton’s arrest.
“We are going back in time dealing with this government,” said Jacobs in regards to the current situation. “If we go back to the 1970s, that’s when Aboriginal people started to become very vocal and started to say ‘that’s enough!’ I know that is what’s happening today with Aboriginal women across the country with really strong voices who are saying these things and saying that is enough and what do we have to do? Do we have to have more Caledonia’s across the country in order for the public to understand what these issues are about?” said Jacobs.
For the time being NWAC is looking to rally the troops for support. “What we are doing as an organization now is to gather our allies you know, non-Aboriginal organizations, those that support the rights of our people, the voters, people who can start challenging their MPs. To me, that is our next move, to start gathering those who are like-minded and start challenging, start campaigns, start being much more public and vocal and as much as possible,” said Jacobs.