The tragedy of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls must not continue to be part of the narrative of Canada. Indigenous women and girls have experienced colonial violence and genocide for hundreds of years and it must end.
Tina Fontaine was just 14 years old when she went missing in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Three days after she was last seen alive, her young body was pulled from the Red River. Maisy Odjick was 16 years old and her best friend Shannon Alexander was 17 years old when they disappeared from their home community of Kitigan Zibi, a couple hours north of Ottawa, Ontario. They have never been found. Tammy Nattaway, 16 years old, went missing in 2020 from Garden Hill First Nation in northern Manitoba. She also has not been found.
I mention these young women’s names because they are the age of students in our classrooms. When I look at my students, I think of all the amazing possibilities for their future. My own daughter was the same age as Tina Fontaine when she died in 2014. I remember Barbara Kentner who, in 2017, was just 34 years old when she died in Thunder Bay, Ontario, due to complications from injuries she sustained after being hit by a trailer hitch that was thrown from a moving vehicle. I taught Barbara when she was in grade 10. In 1992, Sandra Johnson was 18 years old when her frozen body was found on a floodway in Thunder Bay. I went to high school with Sandra. These are just a few of the hundreds of names of missing and murdered women and girls. The story continues, and it needs to stop.
The 2004 data from Statistics Canada found that Indigenous women experienced much higher rates of violence than non-Indigenous women. Indigenous women 15 years and older were 3.5 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. More recent data shows that between 2015 and 2020, Indigenous women accounted for 24 per cent of all female homicide victims in Canada, even though they make up just 5% of the country’s female population. The statistics are not improving.
After Tina Fontaine was pulled from Winnipeg’s Red River in 2014, Indigenous leaders from across this land, a place that we now know as Canada, rallied to renew calls for an inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
In September 2016, the Government of Canada launched an entirely independent National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Over three years, the inquiry travelled across Canada and gathered stories from survivors and family members. In June 2019, the MMIWG National Inquiry released their final report. The report shared findings that many Indigenous people had been stating for decades. We experience persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses, and these are the root cause behind Canada’s horrific rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The Inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada — and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women.”
In 2021, two years after the MMIWG Inquiry Final Report was released, the Government of Canada developed a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan. Progress in addressing the issues has been minimal and painfully slow.
It is important to remember that this was not always part of our story. The tragedy of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2-spirit people is rooted in colonialism and colonial violence. Traditional Indigenous practices were often matriarchal. Women were water carriers and life givers. The sacred understandings of these roles were violated through the experience of colonial genocide on this land. There is much healing that is needed in our communities. I encourage all educators, administrators, superintendents, janitors, education assistants, and anyone else involved in education and schools to be open to understanding what Indigenous people face across Canada and help to educate the youth in our schools. As educators, you can start by learning about the National Truth and Reconciliation 94 Calls to Action. Read the National Inquiry in Murdered and Missing Women and Girls Final Report and the 231 Calls to Justice. Canadians must learn how violence against Indigenous women and girls is part of longstanding colonial policies. It is our responsibility as educators to address the issues and shift the discourse so that all our students have an opportunity to live in communities where they are safe and valued.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.