International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25)

Stolen Sisters: Commission of inquiry must clarify disappearances of Indigenous women in Canada!

© Dawn Paley/Flickr

Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, should finally assign a national commission of inquiry to clarify the extent of crimes against Indigenous women in his country. This was demanded by the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) on occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25. "The Canadian Federal Police (RCMP) published a report according to which almost 1,200 women of the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis were reported missing between 1980 and 2012. More than 1,000 of them were murdered," the human rights organization wrote to Harper. "Independent investigations are the only way to get a complete picture of the way the security forces treat these victims and to provide a basis for a long-overdue reform of policing." The families are accusing the security forces of systematic racism, but Harper rejects these accusations.

"Many of the women are mothers – but it is also often young girls who become victims," reported Yvonne Bangert, the STP's expert on questions concerning Indigenous Peoples, in Göttingen on Friday. "With every missing woman, the families and the community lose part of their future. This is why they missing women are called "Stolen Sisters". "In Canada, a movement of the same name documents such cases, organizes vigils, and demands closed files to be reopened in order to solve the crimes. The "Stolen Sisters" accuse the Canadian authorities of not searching for missing Indigenous as thoroughly as for women of other ethnic origins.

"Indigenous women are often labeled as prostitutes or alcoholics who are to blame for their fate themselves," criticized Bangert. "But – as they are already discriminated against as women and as people of Aboriginal descent – they are especially in need of help to improve their living conditions and to escape poverty."

In Canada, 11.3 percent of all women who were reported missing and 16 percent of the female homicide victims are of Indigenous descent, whereas they only make up 4.3 percent of the total population. On average, 83 percent of the missing cases in Canada are solved, but only 53 percent of the cases that concern indigenous victims. Mostly, the perpetrators are to be found in the social environment of the victim. The STP assumes that there are far more cases of indigenous women who disappeared or were abused or murdered than the official figures suggest. Not all the families decide to report missing persons, because they often don't trust the police. In addition, the statistics often don't account for the ethnicity of a murder victim.

In mid-August of 2014, the case of the 15-year-old Tina Fontaine of the Sagkeeng First Nation caused an uproar in Canada. Several police officers and a social worker had talked to her when she was already listed as a missing person, but did not bring her home. A short while after, her dead body was found in a garbage bag in the Red River in Manitoba.

Yvonne Bangert - Indigenous Peoples Department - is available for further questions: Tel. 0551 49906 14 or indigene@gfbv.de.

Header Photo: dawn paley/Flickr