Government needs to do more to protect Indigenous women: Crown-Indigenous Relations

·3 min read

A Winnipeg MP says it is time for the federal government to call a national state of emergency and to mobilize funding and resources across the country to keep Indigenous women and girls safe and prevent them from being harmed, going missing, and being murdered.

“This is a crisis,” MP for Winnipeg Centre Leah Gazan said during a Tuesday media conference in Ottawa.

“Women are being murdered or going missing every day.”

The House of Commons unanimously backed a motion by Gazan on Tuesday seeking to declare the deaths, disappearances and abuse of Indigenous women and girls in Canada a nation-wide emergency, and that called for funding for a new Canada-wide ‘Red Dress’ alert system to alert the public when Indigenous women and girls go missing.

Gazan said she is also calling on the federal government and on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to issue an official emergency proclamation that would see “immediate” steps taken by the Liberal government.

“I join today with women and with two-spirit people across the country calling on Canada to immediately recognize what is happening as a Canada-wide emergency,” Gazan said. “We are precious, we are valuable and we are loved.

“We are not disposable.”

Gazan is calling for an immediate state of emergency and implementation of the Red Dress alert system.

She also wants to see more funding, programs and services to help women and girls who grow up involved in the Child and Family Services (CFS) system and are ageing or have aged out of care.

“Immediately implement housing and social supports for those children ageing out of care, so they are not ageing out onto the streets,” she said.

Gazan said she and many of her colleagues have no plans to back down from their demands.

“We are not going anywhere,” Gazan said. “We are powerful, and we are not going anywhere.”

During Tuesday’s media conference, Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, the chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle, and a long-time advocate for the rights and safety of Indigenous women and girls, mentioned that in 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted the findings of a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, which said the crisis amounted to “genocide.”

But she said despite that recognition from the PM in 2019, she has not seen the type of urgency from the Liberal government to help to deal with the ongoing issue.

“Canada has a responsibility to support immediate, sustained, and impactful action,” Anderson-Pyrz said.

“But instead what we see is a lack of political will and inaction.”

She is also calling for more attention to be focused on the “systemic racism” that she and many other Indigenous leaders say is causing so much harm to Indigenous women and girls across the country.

“In this country, when you are born female and Indigenous your rights are denied from birth,” Anderson-Pyrz said.

“Every day is a fight for survival, and we are exhausted from fighting the systemic and structural racism that is killing us.”

A spokesperson for the office of Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said the federal government would not yet commit to that kind of proclamation, because of the “complexity” of the issue.

“Addressing the Calls for Justice and putting an end to the national crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQI+ people is not a linear process,” the spokesperson said in an email.

“It is clear that we need to do more. We need to do more in the short-term to protect Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people who are not safe, and we need to do more to influence long-term, sustainable progress.

“The inherent complexities involved in changing fundamental structures and institutions take time, and some will require sustained action over many generations.

“As long as Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQI+ people are unsafe and at risk, the work will be ongoing.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun