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.
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