We are often taught about diversity in our schools, and how we as a collective society should always strive to give people who have been historically on the margins, a more equal opportunity to succeed in society. Within the last couple of years, we have seen a resurgence of civil rights activism, including the Black Lives Matter movement, the Free the Nipple campaign, LGBTQ rights movement and multiple people advocating for greater religious tolerance amongst Christians and Muslims. As awesome as this is, we still have managed to conveniently forget as a collective society, who the original inhabitants of the Americas were. By doing, so we have ultimately left them out of every single conversation that has to do with civil rights and liberties.
As of March 31, 2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), released a report that cited information on roughly 582 cases of reported missing and murdered Indigenous women. Of these cases it was discovered that 67% of these cases were murder cases that were the result of homicide and negligence. 20% were of missing women and girls, 4% were cases of suspicious deaths that were attributed to being deemed as “natural” deaths or “accidental” by various members of law enforcement. The interesting part of this is that an additional 9% of indigenous women mentioned in this report were deemed “unknown” cases, where there exists a substantial level of ambiguity concerning whether these women were murdered, missing or died of “uncertain” circumstances.
This is barely scratching the surface, according to the Alberta Canada page on Indigenous relations, there were 1,017 cases of murdered indigenous women in Canada between the years of 1980 and 2012. In addition, CBC news cites that as of 2015, a United Nations report cited that young Indigenous women were 5 times more likely to die under violent circumstances, compared to their non-Indigenous peers.
This issue is not limited to Canada. The United States Department of Justice cites that Indigenous women in the United States typically experience forms of battery and sexual assault at a rate of 23.2 per 1,000, as opposed to Caucasian women who are cited as experiencing these same issues at a rate of 8 out of every 1,000.
The construct that comes to mind, is that of gendered violence which is defined by Wood (2015) as being the physical, verbal emotional, sexual and visual brutality that is disproportionately inflicted on specific members of a particular sex. Unfortunately, Indigenous women have a long and painful history of being victimized, that can be traced all the way back to the initial colonization of the Americas.
Indigenous women were initially taken advantage of when the European colonists arrived in the Americas. These acts were justified by the colonists deeming the natives as “sub-human” and being less than “pure” and “civilized” due to the nature of their appearance. Countless numbers of Indigenous women were beaten, murdered and raped, as apart of the genocide that was imposed on their entire culture. Unfortunately this stigma never went away. This same mentality exists today, as we see by the statistics mentioned earlier, the only substantial disparity between “now” and “then” is the fact that these incidents of assault on contemporary Indigenous women just have been hidden from the mainstream public’s knowledge.
Further examples of gendered violence directed at Indigenous women in contemporary times can be found in America’s heartland. These instances are often attributed to large Indigenous populations who live in extreme poverty on “reserved” land. Many times these incidents of gendered violence are largely attributed to the substance abuse problem that plagues Indigenous communities. According to the United States Department of Justice, domestic violence directed towards Indigenous women, including manslaughter and murder, are very common on Native American reservations. The New York Times cites that 1 in 3 of Indigenous girls and women have been either raped or have experienced an attempted rape. They cite this as being so extreme that 1 in 4 Indigenous children will ultimately be exposed to some form of family violence in their lifetime. In addition, the United States Department of Justice cites that the law enforcement officers on the reservations literally do not have basic technology that would allow them to effectively pursue these cases, along with being largely outnumbered against the perpetrators of these heinous acts.
In 2016 we have admittedly have seen a lot of social progress in western culture, however there still exists plenty of room for improvement. We must first start by stop ignoring the fact that the original inhabitants of this land live well below the poverty line, making the projects of Harlem look like Beverly Hills compared to some of these places. We as a collective western society have allowed them to be placed in inadequate housing, unsanitary living conditions, and have forced them into an environment where women are literally open targets for criminal assaults, due to the fact that we care so little about them as to not even provide sufficient protection under the law. If we truly wish to pride ourselves, as Americans, or even democratic westerners (yes, Canada I’m calling you out) then we must hold our actions as a collective institution accountable.
In conclusion, the fact of the matter is we are one people. There has been no credible evidence that suggests that there is really any other race than that of human. With that being said we must lose this mentality of “us” versus “them”, whether it be man versus woman, black versus white, white versus red; these are all illusions. I firmly believe that despite the tremendous damage that have been done to so many individuals on the margins, it isn’t too late to change our ways. We must start by showing compassion to our fellow humans and realizing that heinous acts such as gendered violence are not limited to being an Indigenous women’s problem or just a woman’s problem. This affects us all, because there is no guarantee that the next victim of some type of hate crime won’t be your mother, your sister, your grandmother or even you. This affects us all, it’s time to start acting like it.
“The elders say the men should look at women in a sacred way. The men should never put a woman down or shame them in anyway. When we have problems we should seek their counsel. We should share with them openly. A woman has intuitive thought. She has access to another system of knowledge that few men develop. She can help us understand. We must treat her in a good way.”