Photo by Alexandra Cameron
I’ve been thinking a lot about the missing and murdered woman all across Canada. So when this article ‘On the front lines of the missing and murdered women tragedy, pain never fades (which talks about the women in Winnipeg) came across my radar, I delved in.
“If native women are constructed as ‘easy squaws’ and are locked into this imagery through the behaviour of individuals, they will continue to be rendered worthless in public institutions such as courtrooms or hospitals,” wrote aboriginal author and researcher Kim Anderson, in A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood.
“If we treat native women as easy or drunken squaws in the court system, we feed negative stereotypes that will further enable individuals to abuse native females, and so on. Native female images are part of a vicious cycle that deeply influences the lives of contemporary native women. We need to get rid of the images, the systems that support them and the abusive practices carried out by individuals.“
This is why I am so offended by videos like No Doubt sexualizing images of Native American/First Nations women, and the countless images found on Tumblr of sexualized young woman wearing a headdress. Perpetuating that stereotype deeply affects all Native woman, not just those who are “at risk.”
In another dissertation, Pathways of Resistance: The Politics of Addressing Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada (1980-2010), University of Toronto PhD candidate Robyn Bourgeois wrote: “The myth of the deviant aboriginal woman continues to plague us, reinforced by dominant cases that coalesce prostitution and aboriginal women into a single entity. Contemporary Canadian society dismisses violence against aboriginal women and girls today on the basis of these perceived deviances (addicted, sexually available). We are not even treated as human beings. Human beings have the right to a life free from violence, yet we have to convince the Canadian state to step up and protect us.”
Shannon Buck, the program co-ordinator for Red Road to Healing at the West Central Women’s Resource Centre, noted: “It’s a huge part of it, seeing that big picture of history to where women are now. The concept of the squaw is alive and well in North America, and all the ugliness of that word.”
The dehumanizing can start early on the streets of Winnipeg, with preteen girls (and boys) propositioned on the way to grade school in the North End.
Costume photo from Amazon.com
In my experience, Native woman are almost always “at risk.” I can remember as a teenager when older men who would attempt to lure me into their car, to go to their party, etc. while I was a teenager. Since the age of 13 I was constantly prodded to deviate from my path, until I left my home town at 17 and left for university. Thankfully I was able to escape. Some were not so lucky.
Recently I got into a conversation about this vulnerability that hasn’t really escaped me. Sure, I generally feel completely safe in Toronto, in a city that I know well and be sure to only frequent establishments that I feel comfortable in. While traveling, however, I will be very careful about where I go eat alone, especially when in smaller, northern communities. I also would never go to have a drink alone. Ever. That is just not something that I feel safe doing. And surely, there is a commonality for all women to feel unsafe and perhaps like they might be targeted, but there are certain men who don’t believe that Aboriginal women aren’t equal to them. And that is the scary reality that I must live in.
There are 582 missing and murdered Native women in Canada from 2000 to 2010, as per data compiled by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). Between 2000 and 2008, 153 cases of murder have been identified in NWAC’s Sisters In Spirit database. These women represent approximately 10% of the total number of female homicides in Canada despite the fact that Aboriginal women make up only 3% of the total female population in Canada. Aboriginal women are also eight times more likely to be murdered by than non-Aboriginal women.
I look forward to the day when I can see Native women being portrayed in the media as school teachers, as mothers, as lawyers, as professionals and not simply sexualized for consumption.