'Shameful and disgraceful milestone': Response to MMIWG report from Vancouver
One woman grimly remembered a sister murdered in Gastown’s Blood Alley, while another described a cousin who’d vanished with her DNA later found on Robert Pickton’s pig farm as community leaders and advocates didn’t shy away from using the term “genocide” to describe their thoughts on the treatment of Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
Hundreds gathered at a meeting space in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to hear the stories from Indigenous women’s families, while advocates and leaders called for immediate and concrete steps to follow through on more than 230 recommendations made in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
"It's finally good to have it acknowledged that what's been happening to us for the last 200 years is genocide," said lawyer, activist and professor Sharon McIvor.
She called on government to immediately implement legislation ready for a cabinet order that could quash gender-based discrimination in the Indian Act.
"I'm calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet to get busy and at least make sure we're equal under the law,” she said. “They can do it tomorrow.”
“Two hundred women and girls have gone missing or been murdered since the start of the inquiry," claimed Battered Women’s Support Society's Indigenous Women’s program director Summer Rain Bentham, who called for immediate and concrete action. “Listening is not action. Listening does not stop men from being able to target and harm Indigenous women and girls, trans and two-spirit with near-impunity."
Speakers described a need to address everything from a lack of clean drinking water to educational opportunities to support for victims fleeing domestic violence to affordable housing and guaranteed livable income as factors that immediately needed addressing, in addition to long-term and more complex goals like tackling sexism and racism in the justice system.
Premier John Horgan praised the study’s 2,400 participants, many of them from B.C., for contributing their stories or expertise to the report, saying community engagement in “concrete steps” will begin “soon.”
McIvor says while she’s encouraged to see the report finally come to fruition, it’s going to take a long time to fix the deep systemic inequalities at play.
"The Canadian government has built a structure of laws, policies and practices that treat Indigenous women as inferior or lesser human beings," she said. "As a result, there have been high rates of violence, high rates of violent exploitation and rapes of Indigenous women and girls."
Grand Chief Stewart Philip acknowledged the difficulty many had in speaking out and said it was important to maintain pressure on policymakers now that there’s a clear path forward.
“Once again, we reach a shameful and disgraceful milestone with the release of this report,” he said. “It's our responsibility to hold all governments at all levels to account to ensure the recommendations of this report do not gather dust on some bureaucratic shelf in Ottawa."