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Content Note: This article discusses assault, sexual assault, murder and attempted murder, all with First Nations women as victims.
First Nations women in Canada are disappearing and being murdered at a staggering rate. While First Nations women make up only 4.6% of Canada’s population, they represent 16% of female murder victims and 11.3% of missing women cases. There is evidence that at least one alleged Canadian serial killer specifically targeted First Nations women, as reports indicate as many as half of the bodies found on his farm were First Nations women. After the Canadian federal government refused to investigate what is clearly a systemic issue (and not one unique to Canada), First Nations women turned to their own for help.
Rinelle Harper, recently abducted, raped and left for dead, made an emotional plea to the Assembly of First Nations to prioritize resolving the murders, disappearances and abuse of First Nations women in Dcemeber of 2014. Her attack was horrifying and cold-blooded. She met a 17-year-old and 20-year-old and went for a walk with them along the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg. After she was attacked, she ended up in the river and swam downstream, only to be beaten again and left for dead. A passer-by found her and called emergency services, ensuring she received the medical attention she very desperately needed.
Simply speaking up was an act of incredible bravery, given how widespread and pervasive cultural ignorance of this very real issue is. Last year, 26-year-old Inuit student Loretta Saunders was found to have been murdered after going missing briefly. Her family was certain her disappearance was sinister, as the focus of her studies had been missing and murdered First Nations women, and she would not have left without tell people where she was headed. Saunders’ murder was not related to her research (she was killed by subletters who owed her money). Her thesis supervisor wrote about her death in the context of her work. It’s moving; get the tissues ready.
If Saunders’ murder was a terrible coincidence, there is still frightening precedent and little reassurance that Rinelle won’t be targeted as a result of speaking up. She spoke up anyway, putting her name and face out there as the public face of First Nations women who have been abused and assaulted. It is bravery like this that changes the world.
Ladybud Magazine applauds Rinelle Harper, her family and friends and all those who are working to end the racial and gendered injustice implicit in modern society. It is the continued destructive power of cultural colonialism at work; everything rolls downhill, and women are forced to bear the brunt of this too-often ignored violence.
There is an awareness and solidarity group on Facebook, called Missing & Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada. The group regularly posts updates when someone is missing and shares media coverage of this serious issue. For previous Ladybud coverage of First Nations stories from Canada, click here.
Photo Credit: Glenbow Museum under public domain via Wikimedia Commons