Friday, November 26, 2010

Sisters in Spirit letter - DRAFT

I am writing to encourage continued funding of the Sisters in Spirit initiative. This work by the Native Women's Association of Canada makes a significant difference in Canadians' understanding of the issue of violence against women, especially women who are Aboriginal, in Canada. By drawing attention to the problem, they are encouraging others, including the media and police forces, to make changes that have the potential to eventually reduce the number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. This needs to be a priority.

Recently, my women’s study class at Trent University discussed the topic of residential schools in Canada, and the Canadian government’s apology to Aboriginal peoples who were harmed in them. Many of us share the opinion that the apology did not go anywhere near far enough. We do not understand why only physical and sexual abuse were included, as even those students and families who were not subjected to abuse of this type were clearly and seriously harmed. We are distressed, too, that in spite of having made the apology, and (finally!) signing onto the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights, it seems that Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and especially women, continue to receive so little funding and support. Partial resolution of the Picton case does not address the fact that women in Canada continue to be murdered and missing.

The fact that high level police and justice officials are starting to pay attention to these cases is a positive development, and we are happy to see it – but to cease funding for the Sisters in Spirit Initiative seriously belies the Canadian government’s rhetoric of caring and commitment to decolonization of our Indigenous peoples. During the apology, Mr. Harper said that “There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever again prevail” – and yet here, again are those very same colonizing attitudes. It seems that now that the issue of violence against Aboriginal women in Canada has received enough attention that the public is taking notice, the government has stepped in and is intent on silencing the Sisters in Spirit Initiative by reducing its funding for research. According to Rona Ambrose’s 29-Oct-10 media release, further database development and research will be done not by the Sisters in Spirit project but by police and government. This is not acceptable. Sisters in Spirit is to be relegated to the role of victim support only. How is this not further colonization and control of our Native populations? Once again, the Canadian state has decided that it should do for rather than with Aboriginal people.

And given past history – and even recent actions such as the changes to the census process – how are we to be expected to believe that this is a decision made not to improve services but rather to once again silence Aboriginal women? Far too many of this government’s actions seem designed to solve serious issues of poverty and violence in Canadian women and children’s lives by vanishing them (removing activities that enable reporting and quantifying) rather than dealing with them. Ensuring that the number of Canadian children living in poverty will no longer be accurately counted by the census does not render those children less hungry, any more than restricting the Sisters in Spirit Initiative’s ability to do research make Aboriginal women in Canada any less dead.

It seems obvious that cessation of funding for the Sisters in Spirit’s ongoing research is not an issue of money. We had plenty to spend on the G20. And Canada has plenty of resources to spend on supporting women and children in Afghanistan , and charitable, development, and relief efforts throughout the world. We have committed not millions but billions of dollars to these activities. While we do not begrudge the support we provide to people in other countries, we find it extremely disturbing that we are doing so instead of, not in addition to, providing funding for important projects which benefit women and children in Canada. Far too many Aboriginal women in Canada are missing or murdered. Until such time as this is not the case, funding for projects such as the Sisters in Spirit Initiative is crucial, and should be of the utmost priority. According to the Honourable Lawrence Canon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the 12-Nov-10 media release "Canada is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples." It is long past time to prove it.

The Native Women's Association of Canada's Sisters in Spirit Initiative research funding must be restored.

Feedback welcome - either leave a comment, or email me .

Residential Schools - what can WE do?

So ... I thought it might be useful to write something up about some of the ideas that came out of our seminar discussions this week, about what WE can do with/about what we have learned about residential schools in Canada. I think that we came up with some good ideas:

We can ask questions. This suggestion was/is especially applicable to those of us with children in schools - but someday that might well be more of us than there are now, right? (Except K.S. of course!) We can pay attention to what our kids are learning about Aboriginal peoples, and especially about residential schools - both in school, and from us at home.

We can avoid contributing to stereotypes about Aboriginal peoples in Canada. By being careful about our own language, and confronting and correcting other peoples' misperceptions and/or use of stereotypes, we can help to model and to educate.

We can challenge and question unfair depictions of Aboriginal people in the media. It is very easy to write letters to the editor now that most media outlets provide online forms/email. If/when you see something you object to, why not consider firing off a response?

If I missed anything, let me know - I'm too lazy (and too cold!!) to run out to the van to get my notes right now so am working from memory.

Sisters in Spirit

To Sisters In Spirit Supporters --- It's not over yet.

The Native Women's Association of Canada's (NWAC) Sisters In Spirit initiative 2005-2010 was denied the renewal of its special project status and are now parceled under one portfolio under Status of Women Canada. This change has negatively affected the activities that NWAC can undertake and will hamper our ability to maintain focus on resolving the epidemic of violence that threatens Aboriginal women. A strategic, long-term approach is needed to sustain our high quality of work and effectiveness on this issue.

Sisters In Spirit began out of a dire concern shared by many groups, including the Aboriginal community, social service agencies, churches and international groups such as Amnesty International. These organizationswere alarmed by the large number of cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls; they supported NWAC and our application for funding for the Sisters In Spirit initiative to address this issue.

Five years forward, Sisters In Spirit is no longer just a project - it has become something much larger. International, National, local and grass roots groups and individuals now have a connection to the name Sisters In Spirit as a global movement and brand. Sisters In Spirit is recognized in Europe, Latin America, Australia and North America as a symbol of the commitment of not only the community to ensuring the safety of Aboriginal women but also as a way to honour the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, their families and their communities.

The Sisters In Spirit logo "Grandmother Moon" is also recognized in conjunction with the initiative and as a connection to the nearly 600 known missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. The families of Sisters In Spirit trust the name and logo and feel a strong affiliation with them as a beacon of hope for change.

Sisters In Spirit has outgrown project status. It demonstrates NWAC's success in conducting research, policy development and community engagement on this difficult issue. NWAC is recognized by both governmental and non-governmental organizations as a leader in this activity and an expert voice on this issue - a voice that brings forward the concerns of families who have lost a loved one as well as all those in the Aboriginal and wider communities who share a commitment to reducing violence and improving the circumstances facing Aboriginal women.

NWAC is concerned that the difficulties surrounding ongoing funding are not only curbing the success of the movement but also causing unnecessary pain to the families directly affected by this issue. NWAC hopes that the federal government will recognize this unique situation and work with the organization to make the right decision. NWAC looks forward to further collaboration with the government on new, ongoing and additional projects that will enable us to continue the work we began almost six years ago.

How you can help:

We would recommend the following actions:

Sending a letter to the federal government stating your support of NWAC's Sisters In Spirit and urging them to make ongoing funding to this activity a priority.
Posting support of NWAC's Sisters In Spirit on your websites or other locations you feel would be beneficial

Communicating with your affiliates and members to also pledge their support to NWAC's Sisters In Spirit.

Our doors are always open to family members and communities. Our doors are always open to develop new partnerships and relationships. We would also like to put your letters and supporting documents on our website located at Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions,comments, or ideas.

Sisters In Spirit,
The Native Women's Association of Canada

I am working on a letter of support for continued funding for the Sisters in Spirit project - will post it here when it is finished. If any of you would like to add your signatures to the letter, let me know.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In case you are interested

Had a conversation on facebook with a bunch of other grad students about this article today: Native hunting rights unfair to rest of us . It was published in yesterday's Peterborough Examiner.

Not, in this case, really a WS issue - but it does, I think tell us something about the myth of decolonization: that Canada is now ever-so-much-better at dealing with Indigenous peoples.

Anyway, here's my response:

I was appalled to read the letter from Mr. Robinson in yesterday’s Peterborough Examiner. There are so many problems with it that I do not even know where to start. I am sorry that apparently Mr. Robinson was unhappy with his hunting trip this year, but to blame this on our country’s native population is ludicrous. My failure to capitalize native here is, by the way, intentional. I am writing not about a single group of people that we white Canadians label or define when we have no right to do so, but about the many peoples descended from those who lived here long before contact – who, interestingly enough, never seem to have any trouble managing wildlife populations before we, regrettably, came along and stuck our noses in.

Even a most basic reading of Canada’s (deplorable) treaties would clarify, first of all, that hunting rights were not, as Mr. Robinson writes, given away. They are among the few things that even the Canadian state acknowledges were and are protected in the (deplorable) treaties. If we were, indeed, all born equal, why is it that we white, descended-from-European-Canadians get to make (and enforce) all the rules? They were here first, and were willing to co-operate and support the early European settlers, and share their many resources with us. Many native groups continue, in spite of the many ways we have used and abused their people, to be willing to work with us to attempt to find co-operative solutions to the many issues colonialism has created – and continues to create, for that matter. How dare we – any of us – suggest that we have the right to shove our beliefs, principles and laws on them?

Mr. Robinson’s letter was sadly ill-informed and racist – but even more appalling than the fact that he thought to write it is the fact that The Peterborough Examiner thought it was acceptable to print. It was, most assuredly, not.

The editor called today and said that it would be printed within the "next couple of days."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Questions about Residential Schools

We had a lot of them!

The 11am seminar group's questions were:
  • Why is it not mandatory that Canadians learn about residential schools (and about Indigenous people in Canada)?
  • Why did the Canadian state ever think residential schools were the right thing to do?
  • What happened to the nuns and priests who were involved?
  • Why (how?) could supposedly religious people act that way?
  • Why did it take so long to end, and to apologize?
  • Why do we think that the apology means anything/is enough?
  • What do we do now?

The 12am seminar came up with these questions:
  • Why did they(Indigenous representatives) accept the apology?
  • Why did residential schools continue for so long?
  • Why was the apology only limited to abuse?
  • Why do Canadians not learn about this in schools?
  • How did supposedly religious people rationalize their role?
  • Why are Indigenous people still on reserves in Canada? And why do some of those reserves not have decent resources (such as drinkable water, social services & health care)?
  • Why did Indigenous people ever help the settlers to begin with?

As you can see, there were a lot of similarities, and some overlap between the two. It seems to me that we can group our questions under the following 3 main headings:

  • Causes & effects (contact, religion, motivations, damage done, etc.)
  • The apology (limitations, acceptance)
  • The future (reserves, where do we go from here, what can we do)

It also seems to me that for some of these questions, there just are no good answers - but that that does not mean they are not good questions. They need to be asked, and talked about, and learned from so that we - and by that we, I mean all people - can prevent such things from ever happening again.

So. I am thinking that I will, over the next week or so (once I finish marking your papers), write a blog post for each of those 3 broad topics. I will not, of course, have all of the answers ... or even, necessarily, any of them. But I can share some of my (non-Indigenous, non-experience-based) opinons ...and perhaps provide some resources that you can choose to follow up on, or not, based on your interest.

I encourage you, also, to share your thoughts, ideas, questions, and especially resources.

I would especially love to see a discussion about what WE can do. Not the bigger we of all Canadians, and/or all Indigenous people. What can we, as non-Indigenous white students do? Should we, or can we, do anything at all?

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Modestly Yours

Did anyone check out Modestly Yours after reading about it?

I had a look at the articles on the front page.... my favourite is One Hot Mama..I mean Grandma, is that you? Must be cause I'm getting old! Great examples of ageism there.. yikes!

"I remember my grandmother. She was a tiny, sweet thing"

Gag me.... thing? Really?

Anyway, I found it a fairly interesting site - and I was somewhat surprised that in the midst of so much judgemental **** they did not once mention feminists - at least, not directly.

Did you stop by the site? What did you think of it?