Amnesty Demands Action to Stop Violence Against Native Women

By Michelle Oleman

Amnesty International has published a follow-up report to last year’s Stolen Sister document, which described “a climate of public indifference, to the welfare and safety of Indigenous women” in Canada. The latest report includes more recommendations made to Canadian officials.

Despite that Indigenous and non-indigenous communities have begun a long and painful journey toward working together to help understand how this problem has developed, nation-wide Indigenous women continue to disappear.

Demanding action, Amnesty International urges all levels of government to work closely with Indigenous Peoples to create plans of action to stop violence against women. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Reliable and comprehensive
    statistics are gathered as to the nature and scope of the violence.
  • Effective protocols for
    responding to the reports of missing Indigenous women are developed
    and implemented by police forces across Canada.
  • Adequate, sustained support
    is provided to organizations providing programs to assist Indigenous
    women and girls escape from harm.
  • More is done to address
    the extreme social and economic marginalization that places so many
    Indigenous women in harm’s way.

During the past 30 years it is estimated that more than 500 women have disappeared and are likely the victims of violent acts. A study conducted by its Department of Justice in the United States of America concludes that in 1999 Indigenous women were more than twice likely as white women to be victims of violent crime. They were three times higher than white women to report sexual assault, and that 15 per cent of all violent attacks against Indigenous people in the U.S. and 25 per cent of sexual assaults were reported as being committed by intimates (lovers), and family. Fully 70% of all violent crimes and 90% of sexual assault were reported as being carried out by non-indigenous people, according to this research.

There is no similar Canadian study published despite Amnesty International’s recommendation that such information would serve to help understand the social problems that lead these women into dangerous situations.

Failure to recognize the value of human dignity, particularly in Indigenous women is at the root of the problem. Canada has ratified all of the key Human Rights Treaties, including the right to life, and the right to be protected against torture and ill-treatment; the right to security of the person, and the rights both to sexual and racial equality; all of which together define ‘the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.’

The Stolen Sisters Report and its subsequent panel discussions bring much needed attention to a call for systemic change in Canada. A country which publicly prides itself on freedom that it offers all people to live in prosperity, very privately fails to realize the grave consequences that poverty within its own borders is having on its own Indigenous women.

Sarah DeVries, one of the case studies featured in the report wrote in her journal shortly before her death:

“How does one choose a victim? If I knew that I’d never get snuffed. I have no people. I have no nation and I am alone.”

She lived a high-risk life supporting a drug habit with prostitution. She went missing in April 1998, and her DNA was discovered on the property of Robert Pickton (who will be tried next year in Vancouver, B.C.).

Putting an emphatic face to this entire tragedy is Ernie Crey, who delivers a moving account of his own sister, who also fell into a life of addiction and prostitution. He describes how she is loved and missed by a family who valued her as a woman, beautiful and high-spirited. He also describes how devastated the family is, and how we (people around these women) need to stand up for their rights and ensure their safety.

“There is no housing! There is no employment! There is nothing for the people when they live back home! So they do the inevitable and move to the city, where the poverty is even worse!”

Through his political work Crey knows all too well the ill fate of the younger generation of Indigenous women. In Canada, young people, especially women, are considered lucky to survive past the age of 30. He also knows that poverty, racial inequality, and sexual and psychological barriers have yet to be overcome before we can begin to see an end to these horrible acts committed against our stolen sisters.

As one member of the Native Youth Movement, Honey DesJarlais (single mother of two) said: “We need to stand together and make sure that our sisters don’t go out alone, so they will not be hurt!”

The Stolen Sisters Report can be read at Amnesty’s web site or you can contact the Amnesty International office in Vancouver at 604-294-5160.