Today I am writing you not only as the President of the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) but also as a son, a husband, a father of a young woman and as a man who wants to end violence against women.
The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada commemorates one of the great tragedies in Canadian history. On December 6, 1989, 14 women at L’École Polytechnique de Montréal were murdered in cold blood for no other reason other than that they were women. Since then, December 6 has become a day that all Canadians can reflect on gender-based violence and ways that communities can take concrete actions to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
While gender-based violence affects everyone, part of the legacy of colonialism is the cycle of intergenerational trauma resulting from systemic abuse that has left generations of Aboriginal women particularly vulnerable to acts of violence and crime. Statistics clearly indicate that Aboriginal women are significantly over-represented as victims of assault, sexual assault, spousal abuse and homicide. Métis, First Nations and Inuit women are three and a half times more likely to experience spousal violence than non-Aboriginal women. These are not numbers. These are our sisters, moms, grandmas, aunties, daughters and granddaughters.
In response to the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, at its 21st Annual General Assembly (AGA) in Thunder Bay on August 25, the MNO unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Federal Government to hold national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and adopted a declaration to end violence against Aboriginal women. The resolution pointed out that Aboriginal women and girls suffer disproportionately high levels of violence in all its forms and that the results of violence negatively impact the wellbeing of families, communities and the whole nation. According to the RCMP, over 1,181 Aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered. Clearly these numbers are without precedent and only reflect RCMP records and not those of other police forces or those incidents that go unreported. There are underlying problems and contributing factors that need to be examined. Why are Aboriginal women more vulnerable than main stream society? We absolutely have to do whatever we can do to turn this around and declare that by no means is this an acceptable norm.
The AGA also instructed me to personally write Prime Minister Harper to ask for the national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. We took this step because this is an issue that no one government, including the MNO or the police can fully address alone; it requires our collective commitment and actions. We will take a strong stance doing all we can as Métis and united with our First Nations and Inuit brothers and sisters but this is beyond a single community. We must declare collectively that violence against women is not to be tolerated in any form and it must end.
It is not enough however to wait for others to take action. The MNO has been working to address the issue of violence against Aboriginal women almost since its inception in 1993 and is a full partner in Ontario’s Joint Working Group to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women and a signatory to the Framework to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women. Through this Framework, the MNO, along with the Ontario Federation Indian Friendship Centres, Ontario Native Women’s Association, Chiefs of Ontario, and Independent First Nations, have been part of the Joint Working Group to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women. Together we are committed to addressing the root causes of abuse within our Aboriginal communities.
The MNO has also, with funding from the Ministry of the Attorney General, initiated a Victim Services program. This program offers services at 20 MNO offices across Ontario and advocates for victims while also supporting and building violence-free communities. This year we also initiated programming to address sexual violence and the human trafficking of people with a focus on high-risk areas like Thunder Bay.
While ongoing programs and awareness will help, the responsibility for healing our communities from violence against women lies with all of us. On December 6, 2014, please take time to remember all the victims of gender-based violence and join us in working to end all forms of violence against women.
Thank you, Marsi, Megwetch,
Métis Nation of Ontario