Opening Discussions and Key Questions: How Indigenous Women are Treated as Victims

by blogadocious on February 17, 2017 - 8:35pm

        The phenomena of Indigenous women going missing over the past decades has only recently been getting mass media coverage and government attention. This blog post will examine the intersectionalities on Indigenous women and how they have been perceived in their pursuit of justice. First I want to describe justice; justice is often personified through Lady Justice, who is depicted carrying a sword, scale and blindfold. The sword, or 'Sword of Truth' is meant to represent tempered punishment while the scales represent weighted justice. The blindfold represents justice's impartiality to wealth, race, power, religion and many other intersectionalities. Justice is blind, or at least in theory. For Indigenous women justice gets distributed in inconsistently. Missing and murdered Indigenous women have often been ignored by police because they are seen as street workers, drug users and vagrants. Perhaps in the eyes of the police they did not hold enough status or power to matter.

 

        Between 2000 and 2008 Indigenous women made up 10% of female homicide victims while only constituting 3% of the female population. Aboriginal women are also three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than a non Aboriginal woman.1 These stats show that Aboriginal women are seen by predators as easy targets. The police response to missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) has been lackluster at best. Too often the police open and close cases, citing suicide, the risks of dangerous lifestyles or a lack of resources for the absence of investigative vigor. In this way, Justice is not always accessible for Indigenous women.

 

        As alluded to above, there are systemic and institutional obstacles MMIW and their families must overcome in order to find justice. Take the unresolved case of Verna Simard for example, she was a 50 year old mother of 5 who died by falling from the sixth floor in front of a Vancouver hotel in September 2016. The Vancouver police initially treated her case as suspicious but quickly changed positions and ruled it a suicide. One of her sons said it was a “joke investigation” and that “they didn't really look that hard into it; they said it was an accident and swept it under the rug”. However, the man Verna had been romantically involved with was reportedly violent, physically abusive and in the hotel room with her at the time of her fall. There were witnesses at the scene that said they heard shouting between the two right before her fall. The short investigation yielded nothing of substance and the official cause of her death was classified as “undetermined” due to “significant inconsistencies” in witness reports.

 

        Verna is one of over a thousand missing Indigenous women, but her intersectionalities may enlighten us as to the reasons for the dismissive and cursory police investigation. She is a mother, Indigenous, female, marginalized and a victim of abuse. How might these intersectionalities effect her treatment by the police? What about the subjectivity and potential prejudice of the police? According to one of Verna's sons, she suffered from substance abuse, does this downgrade her level of importance as a victim? Is she just another dead/drunk/lazy “Indian”? Or, conversely, has her case been given the proper investigative conduct under the modern reality of police spending freezes and budget cuts?

 

        I would like to invite the readers of this post to examine some of her intersectionalities, and those of other MMIW and decide for yourselves what role they play, if any, in how the media, public and police view these women as victims.

1“Fact Sheet: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls” Page visited February 17th, 2017, https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Fact_Sheet_Missing_and_Mu...

 

Comments

There are two aspects of this blog post I thoroughly enjoyed. The first is the choice of subject matter because indigenous issues have yet to be publicized or even recognized to the extent of their severity. The other is the prompt towards the end encouraging discussion and reflection. I believe true divisiveness roots from people’s unwillingness to hear and respect differing opinions.

The underlying approach you seem to be using when dealing with this topic is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism, a subset of relativism, is an ethical framework that encourages actions benefitting the greatest number of people. An important assumption to make when using this theory is that every person is equal; no one’s value overrides another’s. Therefore, utilitarianist thought supports your criticism towards the police based on their immoral rejection of an entire community. Verna, although suffering substance abuse problems, should not be dehumanised and viewed as a less worthwhile member of society. Regardless if she embodies the “drunk Indian” stereotype, proper and fair trials must take effect to uphold a morally just legal system. The disproportionately high homicide rate among aboriginals and the disengaged investigation of Verna’s specific case are clear indications of Canadian society failing to meet the egalitarian standards it is widely accepted to have.

You have obviously demonstrated your understanding of the topic. I like how you included some pertinent statistics since they really proved the gravity of the subject and helped prove your point. Furthermore, the fact that you included a real example helped the reader understand explicitly how indigenous women are treated.

To further strengthen your argument, I would consider explaining intersectionality more in depth and exactly how this concept relates to the numerous disappearances and murders of indigenous women and how their cases are treated. Intersectionality describes the overlapping and reinforcement of different systems of oppression, inequality, or discrimination. A few reasons why we sometimes oppress beyond gender are race, sexual orientation, class, age, religion, etc. This concept was developed by third-wave feminists and proves that all women do not struggle against the same kinds of oppression or feel it in the same way contrarily to what traditional feminists claimed. In this case, indigenous women show how race and gender intersect creating serious issues. Whilst the fights of indigenous women are related to ongoing feminist struggles within other racially marginalized groups, they are not the same. A crucial aspect of indigenous activism includes the fight for self-determination and recognition. Indigenous people around the world are fighting to maintain control over their identities, cultures, and ancestral land, a struggle that is integral to many indigenous women. Furthermore, a white woman generally does not have to worry about healthcare and other services being accessible to them. Here is a paper that analyses how indigeneity intersects with cultural marginalization and violence: https://www.lakeheadu.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/92/An%20Intersectio.... To sum it up, sexism isn't the only force of discrimination so we need to consider the many markers when determining how much bigotry they suffer from. Recognizing the complexity of female experiences is critical to avoid generalizing them as the same for everyone.

About the author

I'm going to build a blog, it's going to be great - let me tell you. And I have the best people- the best people on it. I'm a writer you know, I write things, everyone tells me I'm a good writer. I have the best words. This blog will be so tremendous you will be able to see it from space.