Photo from the Tina Fontaine memorial via Greg Gallinger.
There are ten places in Canada that are the most dangerous for indigenous women and girls, but the RCMP won't publicly say where they are. “We certainly wouldn’t want to cause offence to anyone residing or leadership within those communities,” says RCMP Supt. Tyler Bates, who also serves as the Director of National Aboriginal Policing and Crime Prevention Services. But in those ten communities, indigenous women and girls are more vulnerable to becoming victims of homicides or to go missing than anywhere else in the country. Bates says the RCMP won't name the communities because the force doesn't want to stigmatize them, but adds that work will begin in those ten communities to reduce the dangers.
“There’s certainly an increased vulnerability that needs to be considered when we look at the statistical rate of violence perpetuated against women,” Bates says.
Recently the RCMP launched a poster campaign against domestic violence and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Three posters were developed with the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations. The posters will be disseminated across the country and in First Nation communities.
Wherever those ten high-risk communities are, Bates says the RCMP will focus on prevention and reduction. Things like anti-alcohol and drug campaigns or teaching people to recognize when someone has the potential to be victimized or sexually exploited are all a part of their strategy. The RCMP knows the risks indigenous women and girls face. In an operational review released earlier this year, the research identified 1,181 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada over the past 30 years. The review highlighted the dangers indigenous women and girls may encounter and what needs to happen to prevent it. Much of the work the RCMP wants to do will be focused on the most vulnerable—the youth.
Maryanne Pearce, an Ottawa-based researcher on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous woman and girls thinks this targeted prevention is a good step for the RCMP. Pearce compiled a database of the names of indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or were murdered. She handed her research over to the RCMP to help them with their own analysis. “Certainly this is not a First Nations community or on-reserve issue at all,” Pearce says. “Not all aboriginal women face the same dangers. There’s going to be differences whether you’re in the city, or PEI, or Regina, versus on reserve in northern Alberta versus Nunavut.”
As of January 2014, the RCMP will have a better idea if that's true or not. For the first time in the force's history, they'll now know whether a victim of a crime was indigenous, and report that data to Statistics Canada. “Our biased-free policing historically forbade us from collecting [racial] information on our surveys,” says Bates. Laurie Odjick says she's happy the RCMP are finally doing this.
Whether it's on the RCMP's list or not, the Kitigan Zibi First Nation in western Quebec has seen many tragedies. In just a few weeks, what's sadly become an annual vigil for lost aboriginal girls and women will be held in the community, located 130 kilometres north of Ottawa. It's been almost six years since two Anishinabe girls, Maisy Odjick, 16, and Shannon Alexander, 17, went missing from the neighbouring town of Maniwaki, Quebec. The two girls were heading to a dance and planned to sleep at Alexander’s house. Neither returned home. Maisy's mother Laurie Odjick said she knows someday her daughter’s disappearance will become a cold case. “How long is that going to take?” Odjick asks. “I know it will be sad when that time happens.”
Also from Kitigan Zibi, Bridget Tolley, 54, mourns her mother. Gladys Tolley was struck and killed by a Sûreté du Québec police vehicle in 2001, on a road right in the community.
The gruesome death of Tina Fontaine, 15, from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba has caused a renewed outcry for justice for indigenous women and girls. Fontaine was last seen on Aug. 8 and just over one week later her body was found wrapped in a bag, dumped in Manitoba’s Red River.
With more indigenous women and girls going missing or murdered, the call for a national inquiry into this epidemic is stronger than ever. Odjick said she is on the fence over whether to support a national inquiry or not. Action is needed, not more research, says Odjick.
But what is clear is that the number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is continually rising.