By Sophia Lopez, April 7 2021—
An event took place on March 31 over Zoom that discussed the violence that continues to occur against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. At the event spoke Dr. Karine Duhamel, director of research for the national inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), and Josie Nepinak, executive director of Awo Taan Healing Lodge and chair of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Committee. In addition to the invited speakers, Elder Jackie Bromley and Dr. Michael Hart, the vice-provost of Indigenous engagement, also spoke out on the issue. The event was moderated by Bobbi-Jo Amos, reconciliation and environment coordinator of the Women’s Centre of Calgary, and Dr. Nancy Janovicek, associate professor in the department of history at University of Calgary.
To begin the event, Elder Bromley led the attendees in prayer and thanks, and explained the importance of the smudging ceremony she was about to perform and how it serves as a method of healing.
“Smudging ceremony is an important part in our Indigenous culture as we always, in everything that we do, include the Creator,” said Elder Bromley. “We look to the Creator for guidance, support and direction.”
Janovicek proceeded to introduce Hart, who had a few words to say about the work UCalgary is doing to bring all voices forward.
“I truly see, particularly within the University of Calgary, how women have influenced the university, and I would say, for the better,” said Hart. “I think it’s in through the ways that we bring all voices forward as best as possible.”
The questions directed to Duhamel and Nepinak then began, starting with how they got involved in their work. Nepinak proceeded to talk about her story as a residential school survivor, and how that experience has motivated her to help other Indigenous community members who have been faced with injustices.
As an advocate for Indigenous women and families affected by violence for 28 years, Nepinak’s work first began when she was a child, and soared when her aunt passed away 45 years ago.
“To this day I honour her spirit, I honour my family, her children, to be able to tell her story so that she is not forgotten, she is not a number,” she expressed.
As a historian herself, Duhamel wanted to change how people viewed history and bring to light the stories that were ignored or not cared about, but that also the history occurring today holds a lot more relevance than what we tend to think. “Historians didn’t really seem to care enough about what was going on today,” said Duhamel.
She also touched on the importance of Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which reveals that “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” according to the national inquiry’s website.
“In so many places that we travelled and people that we heard from, there [were] these whole other histories that no one was talking about that no one was writing about,” she explained. “How women had held and hold positions of respect, how women and girls are sacred, how all of these things really mattered, and how colonization had really looked to erase that power and place, and it’s why the report is called Reclaiming Power and Place.”
Nepinak believes that the actions that have occurred towards Indigenous women and girls is a “gendered genocide.” She discussed how Indigneous women in this country continue to be stripped of their rights, and can have their estate or even their children taken away from them.
“We can look at first of all the Indian Act and how that continues to adversely affect Indigneous women today, and as the most racist document in this country that strips First Nations women of their inherent right to be declared as First Nations,” said Nepinak. “Until those policies and those institutions change, Indigneous women will continue to be subjugated within the Canadian society. We as individuals, allies, researchers, academics, all of us need to come together and work harder.”
Duhamel goes on to critique the structure of the Indian Act, and how it economically and socially targets certain people and makes it so that people can’t get out of the situations they’re in.
“I’ve heard this so many times where people say, ‘Well you know what, can’t people just sort of move on and why can’t they just sort of get over it,’ but they can’t get over it because they’re still in it,” she said. “We have a number of calls for all Canadians, read the report, know what territory you live on, understand the organizations that are actually helping people in the front lines and please support them.”
Elder Bromley opened up about her nephew’s murder, and how barely any news or work was done to seek justice for him and his family.
“We never have a voice, we’re always discriminated,” pointed out Elder Bromley.
Nepinak adds on to Elder Bromley’s point in how systems within Canada continue to treat those of the Indigenous community poorly.
“If we allow these institutions and these systems like the police, the judicial system, to continue to treat us in this [disposable] way, then it’s going to be okay right? Then other people are going to respond in the same way, that we are not worthy, that we don’t get the same treatment of other individuals in this country, because we, apparently, live high-risk lifestyles.”
Duhamel and Nepinak encourage Canadians to support Indigneous communities and be allies in the fight towards justice and equality. They suggest reading the Treaty 7 Indigenous Ally Toolkit to better understand the situation Indigneous people are going through and how to help.
Before ending the event with a prayer by Elder Bromley, Duhamel gave a final note to end the discussion.
“I think we need to practice lateral kindness, and I think we need to look for opportunities to help each other,” she said. “For me, having sat with some of the families and heard these stories, I feel very responsible. This is my heart’s work.”
To learn more about the violence occurring against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, read Reclaiming Power and Place. If you are in need of more support, dial the MMIWG crisis line at 1-844-413-6649, which is available 24/7.