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Sisters in Spirit

Speaking out on violence against Indigenous women

by Kim Petersen

JIPUGTUG (HALIFAX) TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE MI’KMAQ -- On June 4, the Halifax Memorial Library was the venue for an Amnesty International (AI) discussion -- Speak Out! -- on violence against Indigenous women. About 70 people attended the event emceed by Mi’kmaq filmmaker Catherine Martin with guest speakers, Monica Alemán, a Miskito from Nicaragua who is president of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (IIWF) and Jennifer Lord, a Metis and community development coordinator for the Sisters in Spirit (SiS) initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

Jennifer Lord presented statistics that indicate a preponderance of violence aimed at Indigenous women vs. non-Indigenous women; e.g.:

• 5 times more likely to die of violence
• 8 times more likely to be killed by a spouse after separation

The SiS campaign remembers the over 520 Indigenous women victims of violence in Canada (particularly prominent in western Canada with BC being worst with 137 reported cases; Nova Scotia had 4 cases reported) in the last 30-35 years.

Lord cited poverty, loss of territory, and “systematic discrimination” as factors in the violence. AI finds “racism and discrimination fuels acts of violence against Indigenous women while denying them adequate protection within the criminal justice system.”

SiS, says Lord, focuses on the lives of the women and not their murders. “It is our responsibility to remember,” she said.

Monica Alemán named 3 goals of the IIWF: (1) monitor the UN work on Indigenous women’s rights, (2) bring out women’s perspectives on Indigenous issues, and (3) continue to build and strengthen the Indigenous women’s movement.

Therapist Theresa Morris of the Journey of Healing Program, who works with Indian residential school survivors and their descendents, pointed out one cause of violence: “We live in a system of domination.” According to Morris, the Indian Residential School system exemplified this domination and caused great losses for Indigenous peoples. She said there was a need to reclaim those losses, a primary loss being the ability to love.

Catherine Martin lamented, “The government pays lip service to the needs of the people.” She sees education as a key since few people had the background and historical knowledge of what happened to the Indigenous peoples.

Mi’kmaq elder Billy Lewis said, “The violence against women comes down to a lack of respect for mothers and sisters by males in society.”

The women stressed the AI position to hold governments accountable to human rights abuses.

Government inaction, AI maintains, is inexcusable.

The speakers also emphasized the need for solidarity and through solidarity the governments will be forced to act.

Kim Petersen is Original Peoples Editor for The Dominion Newspaper.

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Topics: Indigenous
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