No More Stolen Sisters: Justice for the missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada

This blog is by Noa Kleinman who has recently retired as North America Country Coordinator, after 20 years.

Indigenous women and girls in Canada are being murdered and disappeared at such a high rate that it amounts to a national human rights crisis. 

As James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People commented in May 2014:

"It is difficult to reconcile Canada’s well-developed legal framework and general prosperity with the human rights problems faced by indigenous peoples in Canada that have reached crisis proportions in many respects" 

Anaya went on to describe the "disturbing phenomenon" of the then more than 1,100 "missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls." which exemplifies this crisis. 

Why are the rates of violence so high?

Never am I seen as strong, as proud, as resilient, never as I am

Finally given the stars laid to gaze at them on back roads and in ditches on ghostly stretches of forgotten pebbled pathways your vastness swallows me. 

Do I fall in your line of sight? Do you see me now?

Because I get this feeling that your eyes they curve around me

– (Excerpt from “Your eyes,” a poem by Helen Knott, an Indigenous woman from Fort St. John, BC)

For a long time, Government policy at both Federal and Provincial level has impoverished and broken apart Indigenous families and communities, leaving many Indigenous women and girls extremely vulnerable to mistreatment and attack. 

Racist and sexist stereotypes deny these women’s dignity and worth – giving some men the assurance that they can get away with violent acts of hatred. 

“This history laid the foundations for pervasive violence and created the risks Indigenous women face today,” says Sharon McIvor of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action. “In this way, the reports [reviewed by the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence against Indigenous Women] directly refute the claim made by the federal government that this is a matter of individual crimes, not a ‘social phenomenon'.”

Recommendations go unimplemented

Despite the growing outcry in Canada and internationally, little has been done to resolve this crisis. Researchers with the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence against Indigenous Women recently reviewed 58 reports covering two decades of research dealing with aspects of violence and discrimination against Indigenous women and girls. Shockingly, they found that of more than 700 recommendations made in the reports only a few have ever been fully implemented. 

Many police forces have failed to put necessary measures or training into practice. They do not have appropriate investigative and accountability procedures to eliminate bias in how they respond to the needs of Indigenous women and their families. 

Unfortunately, despite the analysis set out in all these reports, the federal government still maintains that historical facts and broad sociological patterns can be dismissed and ignored” said Alex Neve at Amnesty International Canada, responding to the findings. “Better policing and community safety measures are important, but they’re not the whole picture. We need to address the root causes that put Indigenous women and girls in harm’s way.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) recently held negotiations on the draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But the Indigenous Caucus left the negotiation table after several states insisted on the inclusion of provisions in the text. These provisions would, in practice, endorse national laws that disregard human rights protections for Indigenous Peoples. Read Amnesty’s response

Take action

We join with the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and with Indigenous peoples’ organisations to demand real action now to prevent more sisters from being stolen. We join them in demanding a National Action Plan to address the root causes of violence and identify holistic, culturally-appropriate ways in which to prevent violence, as well as to support those impacted by it. 

The National Action Plan should include a national public inquiry in Canada into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls - focused on exposing the nature of this violence, and on ensuring government and police accountability for an effective and coordinated response.

If you are interested in campaigning on this issue please contact 

Jonathan Cornejo Campaigns Coordinator - Individuals at Risk Team at jonathan.cornejo@amnesty.org.uk

Lise Rossi: North America Coordinator Lise Rossi lise.rossi@amnesty.org.uk

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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