Madam Chair, I wish to thank all of my colleagues in the House tonight for having this take-note debate. This evening, we have the gut-wrenching task of trying to sum up the true travesty of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirited peoples in Canada.
It is important that I emphasize that because I feel like we have been saying these terms, such as “MMIWG”, and we are losing the emphasis of what this really is and how serious the discussion is tonight.
I am deeply humbled and fully aware of my white privilege, also, while addressing the House on this solemn day.
Tonight I speak from unceded Wolastoqiyik territory, where my ancestors settled on stolen land, where the Crown signed peace and friendship treaties with Wabanaki sovereign nations and agreed to share the land.
In the eastern woodlands, grandmothers, nukumzugs, raise up the chiefs. Matriarchs are leaders and life-givers, knowledge-keepers and dream weavers. Two-spirited people are cherished and gifted. They became targets for the colonizers, who had no intention of sharing the land but cleared the way for Canada.
The proliferation of missing and murdered indigenous peoples in the country fits the international definition of genocide. It is the manifestation of sustained, overt and systemic racism in its most perverse and deadly form.
Red Dress Day is a day of honouring missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirited peoples. It is a day to raise awareness, and it must also be a day centred on action for a human rights crisis.
Indigenous women are three times more likely than non-indigenous women to be victims of violence. Homicides involving indigenous female victims were four times higher than those of non-indigenous female victims. This current public data on MMIWG oversimplifies and under-represents the scale of the issue. It still clearly demonstrates a complex, pervasive and disproportionate pattern of violence against indigenous women and girls.
We should all be outraged but not surprised, knowing our painful history and ongoing injustices in the country. It is an inconvenient truth that continues to claim the lives of mothers, sisters, aunties and daughters all across this country, including here at home in Fredericton.
MMIWG are not numbers. They are loved and missed. They are part of the fabric of our communities, and we are failing them. We need to be asking more questions about impacts on women when we make decisions in this country and, as has been aptly discussed this evening specifically, when certain types of industry bring transient workforces to the doorsteps of indigenous communities. Studies show this leads to increased rates of reported violence.
Systemically, police are not investigating cases at the same rates as for non-indigenous victims of crime. In some cases, police have even been found to be involved or complicit. I ask for justice for Chantel.
Human traffickers are out in full swing. Serial killers, gangs and domestic abusers seek and find their preferred targets. Our society has sexualized and objectified indigenous women for so long, and it is so embedded in our society, that we find ourselves now scrambling to grapple with the magnitude of a crisis that the very history of our nation created.
We passed the UNDRIP Act in the House, which was an incredible feat. My concern then, as it is now, was that we have not fully come to terms with what we have finally acknowledged about ourselves. We have yet to face facts, Canada, even as the act spells it out for us.
To bring justice, to bring healing and to bring peace, we have to decolonize, in the fullest sense of the term. That is where the gaping wound begins. Decolonizing can be a scary word for some, but what is really scary is the reality that indigenous women in Canada have to wonder if they are next.
What can we do? We can honour the work of the MMIWG report and the national inquiry entitled “Reclaiming Power and Place”, and follow the path graciously and courageously laid out for us.
We need to listen to, believe and support survivors and families, fund healing initiatives such as resiliency lodges, justice projects, friendship centres and women’s organizations, equip task forces and indigenous policing services, educate the public, and deal in honesty and transparency every step of the way.
There is a commitment by our government to address the wrongs. The time is now for transformative action. It was actually many years ago. For Turtle Island, it is now time to be a safe, supportive and honourable place where indigenous women, girls and two-spirited peoples can thrive. When that happens, we will all be better for it.
I say no more stolen sisters. To the community of Sitansisk in my riding, and to all of Fredericton, let us bring Erin home. Let us break the cycle of silence.
Madam Chair, I have pointed out a couple of things that were specifically highlighted in the report, but I would like to highlight as well some of the words from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. A guaranteed livable income was pointed out as a means to support those who may be fleeing domestic violence situations. This can happen to anyone across the country but, as we know, it disproportionately affects indigenous women in particular. That is an example of something transformative. We can do incremental pieces and we can look at funding long-term programs, but really it has to be something on a societal level, something that is going to create the space that is going to ensure that women have safe places to go when they are facing increased rates of violence.
That is just one example, the guaranteed livable income. Transportation was another piece that was mentioned, and that is critically important. Those are a couple of examples. Again, if we read the report, they are laid out there for us.
Madam Chair, I respect my hon. colleague’s work in this House.
I specifically joined the Liberal Party of Canada to have these conversations, to be a voice and empower those voices, not only from my local community here but from coast to coast to coast, as well as critical organizations such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada. There are many times when those voices are shut out of these processes, which is part of that systemic racism we continue to see. It is ongoing.
I certainly did not use my time in my speech to sing the praises of the work that has been done; we have that commitment now. I see that with the members in the House speaking together. We are united in this. I want them to know that the government I am a part of, in the conversations that we have, is absolutely committed to righting the wrongs. I would not be here if I did not believe that.
Madam Chair, my heart breaks for Chantel, her family and her daughter. I will be marching tomorrow with our local communities here in Fredericton. I will be holding with me a tiny yellow wooden T-shirt that represents Chantel. Her daughter Gracie gave it to me. I think about her many times when we have these conversations. I am absolutely outraged that she has yet to find justice. I will continue to be a voice for her, her daughter, her mother and her family in the pain they suffer, which is ongoing.