Indigenous leaders called for justice as they marked a day honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women, while the Liberal government pledged to bring an end to the national tragedy.
Sisters In Spirit Day is held every year on Oct. 4. The Native Women’s Association of Canada’s vigil took place virtually on Facebook Live this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Canadian government is continuing to show that the lives of Indigenous women across the country are not a priority,” Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald said in a statement released on behalf of all Ontario chiefs that urged Canadians to reignite calls for justice.
She referenced Joyce Echaquan, who died last Monday after filming a video of herself begging nurses for help from a hospital bed, only to be called stupid and told she was better off dead. Archibald also slammed Canada’s Supreme Court for downgrading the charges for the man accused of killing Barbara Kentner from second-degree murder to manslaughter.
“We ask each and every one of you, whether you are a parent, in any of the four levels of government, a police officer, a judge, a teacher, how are you contributing to eliminate violence and death of Indigenous Women and Girls?” Anna Betty Achneepineskum, Chair of the Chiefs of Ontario’s First Nations Women’s Caucus, said in a statement.
“We urge you to assess and determine how we can all work together to address the patriarchal systems, policies, laws, and attitudes that contribute to systemic racism, discrimination and injustices.”
According to the BIPOC Women’s Health Network, Indigenous women and girls “represent 10 per cent of all female homicides in Canada,” despite making up only three per cent of the country’s female population.
The National Association of Friendship Centres released a report last month that found Indigenous women and girls are a dozen times more likely to be murdered or go missing than other all women, and 16 times more likely than white women.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) released its final report, Reclaiming Power and Place, last year. The report detailed 231 recommendations to address the systemic racism and violence faced by Indigenous women and girls.
“Other than murder, statistics also reveal how Indigenous women consistently experience higher rates and more severe forms of physical assault and robbery than other groups of women… (and) in some communities, sexually exploited Indigenous children and youth make up more than 90 per cent of the visible sex trade,” the report said.
The federal government committed to developing a National Action Plan based on those recommendations by June, but that has not happened yet.
“Although the realities of living in a time of pandemic has changed the manner by which partners are engaging on a national action plan at this time, we are employing innovative ways to continue the work,” a spokesperson for Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said in June.
Bennett said on Twitter Sunday that the Canadian government was “accelerating” the work done to keep Indigenous women and girls safe.
“We grieve with families and communities,” she said. “Everyone in Canada must act to end this ongoing national tragedy.”
Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief at Nishnawbe Aski Nation, tweeted “the memory of those who were taken from us guides our work to hold institutions accountable and to demand justice for Indigenous women and girls.”
In an online statement, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Women’s Council demanded “substantive change” across all levels of government to ensure “no more Indigenous women and girls are lost.”
“Women are sacred; it is our collective responsibility to take steps towards keeping our women and girls safe,” the statement read.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to continue working with the loved ones of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls and survivors.
“For far too long, we have failed Indigenous women and girls. To the loved ones of those who are missing or have been murdered and the survivors, we stand with you. This ongoing national tragedy must end, and we won’t stop working with you until it does. #SistersInSpirit,” Trudeau tweeted.
On Friday, the Trudeau government committed an additional $50 million to support organizations for women and children facing violence, $10 million of which will go to supporting services for Indigenous women and children living off reserve.