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More Refusal to Address Indigenous Deaths. Plus, the Emmys Are Sexist

This week's Lady Business tackles the Harper government's steadfast refusal to open an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, and the Emmy's sexist Sofia Vergara stunt.

Image via YouTube.
In paying attention to news about women this week, I felt like I was on some serious drugs. And I wasn’t, for the most part. There are many things I felt like I must be hallucinating this week, but two stories stood out to me.

For one, the Harper government continues to deny the high murder rates Indigenous women are facing, despite another death of a 15-year-old girl. They’ve rejected every request for an inquiry, whether it’s from Indigenous leaders or the UN, and they are now suggesting the government implement “a national DNA-based missing person's index.”


In other news; a much less important, but nonetheless weird occurrence, went down at the Emmys, when the president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences placed Gloria from

on a rotating pedestal to show off his commitment to “diversity.” What a world. Image via Greg Gallinger. Another Indigenous Girl Dead, Another Blind Eye Turned

Tina Fontaine was murdered a week and a half ago, and her body was found stuffed in a bag at the bottom of the Red River in Winnipeg. It’s salacious to write it that way, I know, but that’s what happened. According to the Globe, the same thing happened to a female relative on Fontaine’s mother’s side of the family in 1988, and the case remains unsolved.

Following Fontaine’s death and renewed calls for an inquiry, Stephen Harper might as well have told Canada it’s not his problem. He said it’s up to police to handle missing and murdered Indigenous women, not the federal government, and that most of these cases are solved.

“We should not view this as sociological phenomenon,” he said at a news conference. “We should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such.”

Now, premiers and Indigenous leaders are calling for a roundtable—rather than a public inquiry—in hopes of involving the federal government. Brad Wall says it’s irresponsible for governments to let the death of a 15-year-old Aboriginal girl, and so many deaths before hers, slide.


But an inquiry, as the feds are describing it, is not an action. It is a question, a passive investigation. And we already know what’s wrong here: too many Indigenous women are being abducted and murdered. There have been 1,181 cases since 1980, according to the RCMP. Indigenous women make up 4.3 percent of the country’s female population, but they represent 16 percent of all female homicides from 1980 to 2012, and 11.3 percent of missing women during that time period.

An inquiry will likely be hogtied in red tape and sanitized by legal jargon. It will be, at best, a set of stats and recommendations. It won’t stop the violence. One could argue that an inquiry is the first step to action, but in this case, I’m afraid, an inquiry would be an impotent step taken simply to shut people up. This is a matter requiring a sense of national urgency. We need a concrete plan to stop the rampant murders of Indigenous women and girls, and the voices of those women need to be at the forefront.

After Fontaine’s death, justice minister Peter MacKay (the jolly old fellow) said the government believes appropriate measures include “aboriginal justice programs” (aimed at offenders) and a national DNA database of missing persons.

Dr. Sarah Hunt, a member of the Kwagiulth band of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation, has worked on Ingidenous anti-violence and justice projects for over 15 years. Her response to Mackay’s plan in the Globe and Mail sums up the situation quite well:


“I would argue that these efforts serve to distract from root causes by focusing on indigenous people themselves as the problem. [We are] living in a society that condones violence against indigenous women, where killers face few deterrents, and where missing women are blamed for putting themselves ‘at risk.’ Surely tracking indigenous girls’ DNA so they can be identified after they die is not the starting point for justice… An inquiry will only help if it has action attached and if it shifts power into the hands of indigenous women, meaning it is led by indigenous women.”

Yes, exactly. It seems Canadians have been paying more attention to racial strife in America post-Ferguson, and I’m happy to see it. But if we’re going to get invested in that fight, we should also be tuned in to the treatment of Indigenous people in our own country.

Screenshot via MTV. Sofia Vergara Poses As Piece Of Meat, Bey Preaches Feminism At Dueling Awards Shows

On Monday night, Bruce Rosenblum, president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, asked Sofia Vergara to stand on a revolving pedestal as a symbol of the Emmys’ supposed “diversity.”

Placing a Latina woman on a twirling lazy Susan in front of a crowd of people and televising it does not signify a commitment to diversity. In no way is diversity a top priority for the Emmys, and that is clear to all. Year after year, the awards do not honour nearly enough women or people of colour. Only 26 percent of this year’s nominees were women. Behind the scenes, women make up 28 percent of roles for network television.


This of course speaks to the larger issue—reasonable, multi-faceted, human representations of people of colour are still alarmingly scarce on television. (Orange Is the New Black does this incredibly well, and though it garnered five nominations, it didn’t win in any category). Women and people of colour still aren’t being hired as directors, either. Rosenblum is either ignoring his failings, or trying to pacify the apparently stunned public by flaunting the spinning Vergara like a particularly curvy slab of donair meat, (sorry, I’m from the maritimes) prepped for consumption.

After watching the clip, I could only hope that Vergara was in on the joke, and had mounted the pedestal and gestured like a game show lady out of irony. Sadly, this wasn’t the case—she later said critics need to “lighten up” and have more of a sense of humour. Now, while I don’t find the incident funny, it’s not my place to judge the reasoning of an adult actress who agreed to do a stunt for a man with influence over her career. Nothing wrong with exploiting a system that exploits you, if that’s what you see fit. Do your thing.

That said, it is my place to judge how women are treated in the entertainment industry, and I disagree with Rosenblum’s tactic. The display was an ignorant and blatantly sexist act. It was also unclear to me exactly what kind of diversity he was trying to claim he upheld. Is Vergara “diverse” because she is a woman? Because she is a woman of colour? Either way, women and people of colour are well aware when we are being used as tokenistic emblems of white male anti-racism. When it happens, many of us are not amused.


Rosenblum would have done better to address why diversity on TV is important, and outline steps the Emmys are taking to correct their past transgressions in this department. But the only point he managed to get across to me was that women of colour are objects to be enjoyed, little more.

Thankfully, though, Queen Bey put on the perfect contrast of a show at MTV’s Video Music Awards the day before. She gave a 16-minute performance that left tears and snot all over my keyboard. Then, two thirds of the way, some of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx speech quoted in her latest single, “Flawless,” flashed across the screen:

“We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings, in the way that boys are. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.”

Adichie defines “feminist” for us as, simply: “the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

Bey then struck a power pose with the word FEMINIST blazing in the background. She is not called Queen Bey for nothing.

It’s time for Rosenblum and those like him to take heed of Bey’s messaging, spare us the pseudo-concern, and give credit where credit is due. @sarratch