We are all responsible for murder of Indigenous women and girls | Joan Jack

By Joan Jack

Law360 Canada (December 8, 2022, 9:28 AM EST) --
Joan Jack
To our families who have lost loved ones: I apologize and ask for your forgiveness for the words I say here. I am so sorry for your loss.

Why is there no justice in Canada? That’s the question we are asking ourselves, again, as Indigenous peoples while Canadians shake their heads saying “This is awful” as they scroll onto the next story in their news feed sipping their morning coffee. And, they think, “I just don’t know what to do;” implying they still don’t know what to do with those Indians — Canada’s “Indian problem.”  

Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, Mercedes Myran and Buffalo Woman (unidentified Indigenous woman named by community) are the names of the most recent Indigenous women to be announced as murdered here in Canada. Indigenous women murdered and disposed of as garbage.

How could this be happening? We, Indigenous peoples — women, men, children, continue to be killed and disposed of as garbage because most Canadians are willfully blind. Canadians do not take responsibility for educating themselves about the history of our lands, which they now enjoy and instead continue to see themselves as “nice” and act confused, and this is willful blindness or blissful ignorance.

Quit pretending you’re confused. Educate yourself. Ask yourself what you, as a Canadian citizen, are not doing and that, by omission, contributes to our being killed. “Well, I don’t know what to do. Tell me what to do” is the most common statement I hear. Well, what would you do if it was your daughter, mother, auntie, sister, son, father, uncle or brother? Do that.

As Indigenous peoples, we see time and again the response of the media and governments when a non-Indigenous person, primarily “white,” goes “missing” — the search is on — the army is called in! Collective action by the state and state institutions is immediately taken. 

Another reason crimes against Indigenous peoples go unpunished is that Canadians are complicit by being willfully blind. Acknowledging the truth that we each play a part in injustice creates discomfort and disrupts our privilege. Recently, I gifted a non-Indigenous friend of mine the book White Privilege. It’s just one book and there are many others. Anyway, when following up to see what she was learning or discovering about herself, her response was “My husband read it and said it was good and that I should read it too.”

Well?” I said. “Oh, I’m so busy with kids and work, that I haven’t started.” At that point, I asked her if I could say something rude and probably upsetting to her. She agreed. I said, “While you were too busy enjoying your white privilege, I guarantee you an Indigenous person died that shouldn’t have died today.” Ouch!” she said. We smiled at each other and carried on. I’ve never brought it up with her again because the choice belongs to each of us; unless of course our choices are taken from us.

You decide. You decide what actions you’re going to take as if it was your loved one who had been murdered or taken. You take responsibility for your part. How are you contributing because we are all contributing somehow. At minimum go to the links here — that’s something.

Ok, let’s shift gears. Say something positive, Joan! My sister friend Sandra DeLaronde, who is a powerful Indigenous woman, shared another perspective with me. Sandra pointed out that it is 51 years since Helen Betty Osborne was brutally murdered as a teenager attending Indian Residential School in The Pas, Man., in 1971. Helen was stabbed over 50 times with a screwdriver. Her four killers were not brought to justice for 16 years and only one was imprisoned for murder while the others were set free because they testified against the one. 

Fast forward to Tina Fontaine, leaving thousands of our people unnamed and without justice between Helen and Tina and before both, and we saw Tina’s murderer go free due to insufficient evidence of second-degree murder. Finding Tina’s body disposed of in a garbage bag thrown into the Red River led to widespread protests that led to the National Inquiry into Murdered & Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (#MMIWG) that produced a 1,200-page report and 231 recommendations and while I agree that the police and Crown response times have improved,16 years to nine months, we both agreed that nothing has changed as we are still being killed and disposed of as garbage.

What I have decided is that while I and my people continue to be victimized, I am not a victim

I am writing to you, as a Canadian, to ask that you educate yourself and decide what you are going to do differently in your daily life to end male violence against Indigenous women and all women. We are all responsible for Indigenous women and girls being murdered and disposed of as garbage in our homelands. What would you do for your family? We are all related because we are all human.

Saturday, Dec. 10 is Human Rights Day and I ask you that day say the names of your daughters, your family members out loud and imagine they had been found murdered … and decide what you will do.

Joan Jack is an Ojibway woman and member of the Berens River First Nation in Manitoba. She is also married and adopted into the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in B.C. She is a mother to many children, a grandmother and auntie to many more. Besides being a lawyer and educator, Joan is an activist and is proud to say stands for Indigenous women always and has most recently created a private Facebook group to bring together Indigenous grandmothers and aunties and her group now has over 20,000 members and an average activity rate of over 80 per cent. Learn more here: www.nakinacall.ca

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