The missing women inquiry is shaping up to be – like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission before it – another political circus.
Millions of dollars will be spent; lawyers and aboriginal activists will live in high style; CBC will have a field day. But the lot of the average aboriginal person on some grim reserve or bleak street in Edmonton or Winnipeg will not be improved a jot or tittle as a result of it.
The people setting out the scope of the Inquiry, with the depressing complicity of the federal government, are determined to make sure that the real problems are not addressed. The Inquiry will look into the relatively tiny number of missing women, and leave untouched the simply enormous problem of violence to women within the aboriginal community.
One of the too many examples of violence to aboriginal women is that of Rinelle Harper. Rinelle was viciously attacked and beaten. The Harper family home in Garden Hill, Manitoba was later burned to the ground in what was suspected to be an act of arson – revenge, because she reported the attack. Aboriginal activists used Rinelle as a prop in their political campaign to demand an inquiry into the cases of missing aboriginal women. They then abandoned her when she was of no further political use to them.
Rinelle is a typical female aboriginal victim of violence in that her attackers are also aboriginal. In the case of aboriginal women who are battered or murdered the perpetrator is their male partner in the overwhelming majority of the cases.
Aboriginal women are also far more likely to be battered or murdered by their partners than are non-aboriginal women.
It was my experience as a judge that when the batterers were brought to court for sentencing they invariably blamed alcohol, a bad upbringing, or almost any other excuse that came to mind rather than accepting personal responsibility for their actions. Recidivism rates were thus very high.
The problem is well known, but rather than concentrating on the massive problem of aboriginal male violence to women the aboriginal leadership insists on trying to focus on the tiny fraction of female victims of violence who are missing and may have been murdered by non-aboriginal men.
To be fair to the chiefs (some of whom are women) and other aboriginal leaders, there are some people within the aboriginal community who have long recognized the problem of male violence to women as a major problem, and who have been taking steps to address it.
For example, the “moose patch” initiative in British Columbia, in which men wear small patches of moose hide prominently on their clothing to draw awareness to the problem of male violence is a highly creative and worthy program.
But these initiatives are few and far between, and I think it is fair to say that the public message that comes from the chiefs is one that attempts to find fault with others in relation to missing women, rather than confronting the much larger problem of male violence to women within their communities.
So my question for the chiefs is this:
If the concern truly is the safety of aboriginal women why are you not focusing attention on the alarming numbers of aboriginal women who are being bloodied on a daily basis by their violent partners and instead fixating only on the 1% that involve an unknown assailant?
In the cases of the missing women their grieving family members certainly deserve answers. However, we know most of these answers from previous inquiries. Most of the missing women are vulnerable to predators like Robert Pickton because they live high risk lives as low level prostitutes. There are a disproportionate number of these sad women who are aboriginal for the same reasons that there are grossly disproportionate numbers of aboriginal children in the child welfare system, grossly disproportionate numbers of aboriginal men and women in jail, and on and on.
Those awful numbers are the legacy of our Indian Act and reserve system, which have spawned the chronic dependence that leads directly to social pathologies.
We also know that conviction rates for murder in missing women cases that are solved are virtually identical for aboriginal and non-aboriginal female victims.
So we have these answers.
What is not understood is why, in the case of the overwhelming majority of female aboriginal victims of violence, such a shockingly large number of aboriginal men treat their partners in such an utterly disrespectful manner.
Male violence to women in general society stubbornly hangs on as a serious problem that refuses to go away. However, in the aboriginal community it is a crippling problem. Aboriginal women are an at-risk demographic, and they deserve an inquiry.
The aboriginal community simply must address this problem in order to move on.
However, I suggest that it would be wrong to limit the inquiry to the cases of missing women. The inquiry should examine the whole vexing problem o f violence done to aboriginal women, and not just target the government and police agencies. It should shine the spotlight on the only people who can provide the remedy – the violent male offenders.