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...