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It’s Part of My Story

Lessons from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report.

Years ago, after watching a play about Anne Frank, I reflected on the visceral pull of that story and others like it from the Second World War for me and others who share my Dutch-Canadian heritage. These stories are part of us – we are characters in them, through our grandparents and relatives. 

Now I wonder: What are the stories we will tell about this land? What will we say about this place where I am now transplanted into soil that was tended centuries ago and is still tended today by people who speak words like meegwetch, shé:kon and niá:wen

I think the story told about Canada by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) report is one of the answers to that question, so I went in search of it by reading the Inquiry’s executive summary report.

Here’s what I learned.

CENTURIES-OLD CRISIS
This report isn’t really about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. It’s about colonization. Why are Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people dying? From colonization. From the dispossession, both historical and present-day, of Indigenous peoples. 

The report breaks it down into four pathways to violence that showed up in testimonies to the tribunal: historical, multigenerational and intergenerational trauma; social and economic marginalization; institutional lack of will and maintaining the status quo; and ignoring the agency and expertise of Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ+ people. The more these pathways intersected in an individual’s life, the more likely she was to experience violence. 

“Violence against Indigenous women and girls,” the report concludes, “is a crisis centuries in the making.”

FAMILY HEALTH
Kinship and family came up time and time again in the executive summary. Relationships, especially family relationships and the integrity of the family unit, are essential to safety, to culture and to healing. The report shared various words from Indigenous languages that express this very concept, linking family health and culture. Threats to the ilagiiniq (family) identified by Inuit families and Elders, as one example, included residential and day schools, forced resettlement, medical relocation and child welfare apprehensions. Violence was done to Indigenous people and continues to be done at the level of the family.

They go on to say that the Western concept of the nuclear family is not what they mean by family – the boundaries extend beyond that “to include all familial kinship including but not limited to biological families, chosen families and families of the heart.” 

NEW CURRICULUM
The Inquiry created a resource list and curriculum notes called Their Voices Will Guide Us for various age levels to help teachers bring this story of Canada into the classroom. Heads up, teachers!

SOLUTIONS EXIST
Many of the Calls to Justice directed at ordinary citizens like you and me are not difficult. They include actions like learning about the Indigenous history and current reality where I live, speaking out against racism, reading the Final Report, holding governments accountable to the Calls to Justice, and, most poignantly, creating “time and space for relationships with Indigenous people based on respect as human beings, supporting and embracing differences with kindness, love and respect.” 

The report also includes programs and policies that family members and survivors found to be healing for them and which broke the cycle of violence. The solutions are there. This is not an unsolvable problem.

“The most important aspect to change in the relationships between Indigenous women and the people or institutions with the ability to help protect them is challenging what one witness described as, ‘the way it is.’ There needs to be a dramatic reversal of policy and of attitudes toward those who find themselves targeted, daily, for violence – a reversal that begins in transforming relationships, and addressing discrimination, racism and misogyny at the very root.” 

The stories of these women and girls, the stories that their family members dared to share, are my story, one of the stories of this place that I call home. May we be transformed in the listening, the telling, and the retelling.

Author

  • Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan

    Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan is a Host Connector with Open Homes Hamilton, a Christian ministry that supports refugee claimants by offering home-based hospitality in Hamilton, Ontario.

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