Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Missing aboriginal women more than criminal

When I looked at the picture of 15 year old Tina Fontaine, I could not help but see the face of my own daughters.

Young women are young women. They deserve every chance at life and living. Tina Fontaine lost that chance, her body found in a bag dragged from the Red River in Winnipeg.

Too many aboriginal women have died, all to often at the hands of their own family members. Others have simply disappeared.

Statistics Canada also points out that the death rate of aboriginal men is also far, far out of proportion to the general population.

Does Canada give a damn?

Our Prime Minister, somewhat callously, seems to think not. He has dismissed the matter of aboriginal death and especially deaths of aboriginal women as a criminal matter for the RCMP to deal with.

Somewhat to their credit, they have. But they have clearly said themselves that "There is a need, however, to address the fact that Aboriginal women face considerably higher risks of violence and homicide."

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that this is not a matter of sociology but a matter for police.

The RCMP suggests that it is much larger than that. The method of death may be violent murder. The cause of death, however, goes far deeper.

The academic study of how we live and behave together in community is called sociology. Mr. Harper, by saying that the epidemic of deaths of aboriginal women is not sociology is simply talking nonsense. What he appears not to understand is that crime has sociological roots. Crime doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens when there is a loss of hope, when there is poverty, when there is lack of opportunity, not only in one generation but over many generations.

This country has a very poor record of relating to our aboriginal population. The broken treaties, the residential school system, the destruction of culture have all contributed to the place we find ourselves today.

Do we need another inquiry into the deaths of aboriginal women? Perhaps. But more to the point, we have to revisit the work that has been done by many previous federal and provincial inquiries and see if there are things yet to do.

I suspect the list will be quite long.

At the same time, there must be a radical, total shift in the larger Canadian society and how it views aboriginal people and culture.

That’s sociology. And that’s what we must change.

Many years ago I lived near Curve Lake First Nation. The children from Curve Lake attended our local public school. As part of the school curriculum the school board brought in an Elder to teach the children Ojibway. Once the children from Curve Lake had been accommodated, there were spaces for the rest of the students.

Two of my children participated. They learned a lot, as did I. And although the stories, language and traditions are not mine, it did leave my family with a respect and appreciation for a language and a culture which is not only worthy but essential for preservation and nurture.

There will be calls for a government inquiry on the deaths of aboriginal women and there will be just as strong resistance on the part of the federal government.

But the issue goes far deeper and goes on for far longer. The larger, dominant society needs a reality check. There must be changes in our attitudes and understanding. It will not be a quick fix. It will be generational in scope. But we can start now to make a difference.

I fully intend to commit sociology. I hope and pray the Prime Minister and his government to do likewise.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County