Tina Fontaine. 15. Her body was found in the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Claudette Osborne. 21. Mother of three and fiancé. Missing.
Rinelle Harper. 16. Left for dead in the Assiniboine river in Winnipeg.
What do these three women have in common?
They are all aboriginal.
“This is a human rights crisis,”says Dr. Dawn Harvard, interim president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) to me in a phone interview. She cites the failure to protect aboriginal women and girls in Canada as a failure on behalf of the Canadian government. For the families of murdered and missing aboriginal women, Dr. Harvard explains that it is not just about finding and punishing the murderer. As much as the families want justice, what they really want is to not have been in that situation in the first place and to have their loved one back.
It is important to “get past racism, myths, and beliefs that indigenous women and girls are going missing of their own fault, because of their high risk lifestyle,” Dr. Harvard adds, stating that it is not their fault they are born into high risk conditions. She compares some aboriginal living conditions to that of third world countries – some lack hydro, heating, and proper housing. Other areas of concern include education, child welfare, and health.
Raymond Pidzamecky, a social worker from Yellowknife who has extensive experience working with aboriginal people, said by email that “we have to have courage to discuss the extraordinarily lopsided stats that exist for aboriginal people: higher suicide rates, illiteracy, sexual and physical abuse, unemployment, foster care and addiction rates.”
These statistics were discussed two weeks ago at a roundtable meeting in Ottawa, where representatives from each province and territory in Canada, and representatives from aboriginal leadership and the federal government met. At the roundtable, a national inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women was nixed. Another meeting has been scheduled to ensure the actions discussed in this meeting are taken – what those actions will be is still largely unknown.
Dr. Harvard says, “We know it is racism. We know it is sexism. We know about Residential schools. We know the big picture – but what does a solution look like in the day to day lives of aboriginal women and girls?”
It looks like we might have to wait longer yet for an answer to this question.