Within Indigenous culture, women traditionally have been held in high regard, symbolizing strength, often known as the backbone of the family. Indigenous women are matriarchs within family, and community. They are sacred, life givers, and caretakers with responsibilities for the continuation of culture, resilience and strength to be passed on to future generations. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) refers to a human rights crisis that continues to devalue Indigenous lives.
The RCMP launched a report that stated between 1980-2012, there were 1181 Indigenous women and girls that had gone missing or been murdered. Within this report, there is much confusion and controversy regarding the numbers, mostly due to underreporting incidents and improper identification. In many cases, authorities ruled that no foul play was involved, and ruled out a more naturalistic cause, despite evidence, along with a lack of investigation.
The communication issues with police have existed for years and goes back generations to when police helped scoop up children and forcibly sent them to Residential Schools. These ‘schools’ disrupted individuals, families, and communities, creating intergenerational effects that are still present in today’s society. This must be understood in the context of a colonial strategy that endeavored to dehumanize Indigenous women.
This mistrust and uneasy relationship continues to this day and is represented within the statistics of MMIWG. When attacks on Indigenous women are put in a social context, marginalization and discrimination help put these women in harm and deny their safety and the opportunity to escape, which may even encourage men to feel they can get away with acts of violence.
Although statistics provide information to a specific need, they cannot be relied on to give accurate representation of this issue. Indigenous people continue to suffer at the hands of an inappropriate justice system. There is reason to believe that many of these cases could have been prevented if there were proper protocols, accountability and independent reviews within the justice system. In order for any action to be presented, there needs to be a set criterion for handling these homicide cases, protocols to identify individual murder victims as Indigenous people, rather than just another statistic.
In Canada, the thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls have been reduced to a set of statistics. There is no justification or closure for families of the victims, portraying that their lives are of lesser value. This crisis is widely affecting Indigenous people all over Canada however, this is not just an Indigenous problem but a Canadian one. It should be our responsibility as a society, to rebuild relationships, reconcile with historic tragedies, and re-establish the value Indigenous women hold in communities.