We call this pandemic a crisis. We talk about death tolls and infection numbers. We say that we’ve never seen anything like it before.
While the pandemic has certainly launched Canada into crisis mode, it’s important to realize that this country was in crisis long before the pandemic hit. On May 5, or Red Dress Day, we remembered the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people (MMIWG) who are still seeking justice.
Indigenous women and girls in Canada are 12 times more likely to go missing or to be murdered than other groups of women across the country and if that isn’t a crisis, then I don’t know what is.
May 5 marked the first Red Dress Day since the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report in June 2019. Red Dress Day, for those who don’t know, is a national day of awareness for MMIWG. Canadians are encouraged to wear red in order to draw attention to the more than 1,000 MMIWG in our country.
This year, some Indigenous leaders expressed their deep disappointment in the Canadian government for the little action that has been taken since the report was published almost one year ago. Canada has been in the midst of a human rights crisis for decades, if not centuries, and it’s vital that we don’t forget this during our current pandemic.
Indigenous women are still disappearing and being killed at an alarming rate, pandemic or not. Even during the national inquiry, Indigenous women and girls were experiencing violence at a consistent rate.
On the official national inquiry website, report authors said that “for far too long, Indigenous women and girls have been publicly devalued or ignored. People’s general perceptions have been shaped by harmful colonial stereotypes. People forget that every Indigenous woman or girl—no matter how she died or what she had been through—had an inherent strength and sacred worth.”
We need to honour these women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people by not forgetting them or their sisters and mothers and daughters who are still at risk. Even official RCMP numbers cannot give us a real scope of this issue, as the national inquiry showcased. Experts say that numbers provided by the RCMP are in all likelihood a gross underestimate of the true data.
Even with skewed numbers on the true nature of this crisis, the national inquiry had no problem concluding that Indigenous women and girls are facing a wider genocide in Canada.
The final report on MMIWG delivered 231 calls for justice that are aimed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and civilian Canadians. Let’s not forget about them. Even though there’s a pandemic, it will one day end and Indigenous women and girls will still be at risk.
“To build a strong foundation for healing, justice, and reconciliation, governments and institutions must change. So must our society’s attitudes and understanding of the issue,” the report noted.
So, I urge you to remember that the pandemic crisis is only for now. It’s temporary. But centuries of targeted violence against Indigenous women and girls is not temporary. We’ve seen time and time again how they are targeted and then forgotten about. Say it with me now. We will not forget.