By Kalinowski, Tim on June 8, 2019.
The National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report earlier this week, but questions remain whether this report will ultimately lead to any concrete action on the issue or just be another report on the injustices and systemic racism faced by Indigenous peoples gathering dust on a shelf in the parliamentary archives somewhere.
University of Lethbridge professor Don McIntyre, of the Dhillon School of Business Indigenous business and government stream, says as an Indigenous person it is a frustrating situation to be in.
“I am struggling with this report in the same way that I have struggled with the last few reports that have come out that say the exact same thing,” says McIntyre. “My sense is with this report is the report almost makes it impossible to actually start to implement. What this report does is make people feel as though something has happened, but if you look at the 253 ‘calls to justice’ here they look remarkably like the ‘calls to action’ which were in the (2016) Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, which also look remarkably like the 257 recommendations that came down from the (1996) Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.”
McIntyre acknowledges raising awareness of the issue and pointing out 30 years of failure to change the system in a substantial way is something Canadians may have gotten out of this report but, he asks, is that enough?
“We are at a point as Canadians where we know what has to be done,” he says.
“We recognize the inequities. The question now becomes, ‘alright what are we going to do?’ As Canadians we are not taking on these recommendations and making change.”
As for use of the word “genocide” in the report, McIntyre has mixed feelings.
“What it does is it is almost like a magic trick; so it becomes a discussion around: is it a genocide? How many people do you have to have for a genocide? What happens in the end is it becomes one of the ways through which nothing changes. We have used up all of the air in the room to ask that question, which is a very abstract question, and therefore we feel like we accomplished something when nothing actually got accomplished.”
University of Calgary law professor Kathleen Mahoney, on the other hand, says by using that word the commissioners have added a valuable historic context which identifies the root causes behind the high rate of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
“Our mental picture of genocide is massacres of large numbers of people over a very short period of time,” she explains, “and because of that it has taken on the context of being the worst or the worst violation of human rights that can happen because they are so massively horrific in the context of mass murder. However, the legal definition contemplates a much broader understanding than that. There are many ways which genocides can be carried out other than mass murder over a very short period of time.”
“What they (the commissioners) have done in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls Report is looked at genocide differently over a lens over a long period of time. If you figure in the facts of Indigenous experience over many decades or centuries there has been a consistent pattern since at least the British North America Act in 1867 and 11 years later when the first Indian Act was put into place – you can see a pattern developing where government policies seem to be directed at destroying ‘Indianness” in Canada.”
Historically you have residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and the forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Alberta, which all fit the UN definition of what would be called genocidal acts, Mahoney says, but what persists even today are government policies which reinforce poverty on reserves, poverty which leads to many of the social evils facing Indigenous people. Police services who have admitted to systemic failures based on prejudice leaving Indigenous women on the margins of society exposed and vulnerable. Failures in the justice system to address violence against Indigenous women in a way which acts as a deterrent to such violence. All these, says Mahoney, can be argued to be an extension of the same historic genocidal policies.
“This is not a legal action we’re talking about, we’re talking about an explanation a commission which has studied this thing for the past three years has come to,” she says. “It’s an opinion, and I think it is a justifiable opinion. If it brings greater attention to a huge social problem that must be dealt with, I don’t see it as a bad thing.”
For his part, McIntyre would rather see greater progress on making much-needed, fundamental change happen.
“This discussion (on genocide) takes away from the fact that for Indigenous families their daughters, sisters, nieces and mothers are going missing and are turning up murdered,” he says. “And as a society, we are letting it go for some reason, and that our system is somehow OK with it. I am an old man now and I can say things in my lifetime have changed. It’s not that there hasn’t been movement, but it has been slower than I’d like.”
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