The Harsh Truth of Sexual Violence and Assault of Indigenous Women
2020 has been the year of social justice, from uprising caused by the increase of police brutality across North America and anti-black systemic racism. However, in my opinion, Indigenous issues have been swept under the rug, especially the ongoing discrimination and abuse of Indigenous women. I felt very disgusted🤮 after not only looking at the numbers but the certain circumstances these women are put into. Something which surprised me the most is that Indigenous women are ten times more likely to be killed, raped or gone missing than any other minority in Canada. And, according to CBC News, approximately 140 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing from 2016–2019 all over Canada. This extremely frustrating to me, as I can’t imagine families being torn apart, as mothers, sisters and grandmothers go missing. At this point, I believe searching for these women is secondary, but receiving justice for the families of lost loved ones is much more important. Issues related to Indigenous women have gone under the radar, as the RCMP and Indigenous women don’t seem to have a fond relationship.
These unusual attacks and people going missing have started since the colonization of Indigenous land, as they were forced to be sex slaves and many of them were prostitutes, who were abused. Spousal violence and sexual harassment are high in Indigenous communities, due to many factors of prolonged oppression. Many people like me didn’t realize the harsh truth of Sexual Violence & Assault they must go through, and I feel very ignorant😣 that I haven’t spread the awareness. However, many in the people Indigenous community has a responsibility to spread awareness on this issue, and Katherena Vermette does it best with her book The Break and the organization National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Sexual Harassment and Assault of Indigenous Women
Becoming missing, murdered or a victim of rape and domestic violence has become a norm in Indigenous women’s lives. It’s an issue that hasn’t been rectified by the government, which extremely confuses me🤨. It has been proven by multiple resources that Indigenous women are much more vulnerable than men, as they are more likely to be discriminated against. According to the Department of Justice Canada, 40% of Indigenous women under the age of 15 have been sexually maltreated either in school or home. As a teenager, I can’t imagine being sexually abused or having the fear of becoming the next victim. I believe children at that age shouldn’t have the fear of being raped or abused.
Spousal violence is also an issue, which has plagued the relationship in Indigenous families. Native Women’s Association has stated, 54% of Indigenous women have experienced domestic violence, in the form of being beaten, choked, sexually assaulted or threatened with a knife or gun. It is also known as Intimate Partner Violence or IPV for short. The number of deaths due to spousal violence and has been declared an epidemic according to Deena Brock.
“Domestic violence is real. It’s rampant,” she said.“It should be declared an epidemic.” (CBC News)
These attacks arise from spousal violence where the husband is the dominant figure, creating panic and fear in their lives. I think families should be strength between the man and the woman, and instead of that I’m seeing the opposite in Indigenous families. I hope an investigation is held on why these attacks are persistent in Indigenous families, and shiver goes down my spine when I hear what children must go through.
Apart from sexual violence, Indigenous women have been known to go missing or be murdered. In British Columbia, why 16, also known as the “Highway of Tears” is a known area where most Indigenous women have gone missing. According to Vox, over 1200 Indigenous women were found missing all over Canada, however, they dispute the claim and believe it to be higher. The thing I’m confused about is why do they go missing? I finally realized the reason is because of mass victimization and discrimination, which often leads girls to run away from foster homes. According to theGuardian, in Canada, Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be missing and murdered. One of the reporters said she fled her to gain freedom and love, however, she was a survivor, as many people who go missing die.
Brandi Morin says “At one point two men in their late 20s held me hostage at a downtown apartment in Edmonton, Alberta, where they raped me several times. After fighting for my life for several days, I escaped and fled to the safety of my Kohkum’s (grandmother in the Cree language) home.I didn’t tell her of the horrors I experienced. I was in shock. I just wanted to appreciate being with her, feeling loved and safe until I had to return to the woes of the system.I felt so guilty. I thought what happened to me was my fault because I ran away. I did tell a group home worker I was raped, but nothing was ever done.
For me running away from home is my last thought, because of all the love and care I received from my parents. However, these basic luxuries doesn’t exist for the lives of many Indigenous women.
Human Trafficking of Indigenous Women
We all know that the Indian Act has affected Indigenous communities, however the most vulnerable amongst them are the women. I and many other people didn’t know that the Human trafficking of young Indigenous women and abuse from Indian agents. Human Trafficking is a largely hidden issue in Canada and affects them at disproportionate levels. These women were mostly adopted by non-Indigenous families during the Sixties Scoop when these Incidents take place. A 2014 report by the Canadian women foundation states, 50% of trafficked women and girls came from the child welfare system, and they were all of Indigenous origin. Many of these young girls were scarred for life, as they were beaten, raped and went through psychological trauma at a young age.
These exact atrocities happened to Bridgett Perrier an Ojibwe woman, currently a Human Rights Activist for MMWIG. She was adopted by a non-Indigenous family during the Sixties Scoop and lived with them until she went missing. Something that really surprised me is why did the parents or police not search for her, and I’m now realizing that this is the reason why many Indigenous women go missing. Her decades of sexual violence and trauma would begin at the age of 14 when she was held captive in a brothel in Thunder Bay for 43 hours. During this time the perpetrators raped and tortured her repeatedly, according to National News.
Perrier states, “He was going to kill me,” she said.“He had these big snip things for my bones, he told me."
She managed to escape with many internal stitches and the man who exploited her served two years of prison. Right now I feel and angered😡 disgusted to be a Canadian, after reading her story and what happens to Indigenous girls throughout Canada. It’s because the government doesn’t care about these victims, and it has led record numbers going through traumatic experiences. I only thought human trafficking only happened in third world countries, but I’m surprised it’s prevalent in Canada. As a minority, my responsibility is to stand up for these victims
Depiction of Sexual Violence in The Break
The issue of discrimination of Indigenous women is very much prevalent in the novel by Katherena Vermette called The Break. In this roller coaster of a story, I was able to learn about the struggles of a strong and resilient Metis woman. It tells the story of a multigenerational family dealing with the fallout of a shocking crime. It deals with topics of Rape, sexual violence and anti-Indigenous racism from the police, gang violence and Indigenous homelessness. The crime details a young Indigenous woman, who was gang-raped after returning from a gang party. Vermette’s writing connects to many of the issues faced by Indigenous girls today.
In her book she states, “ ‘She went to a house. A party. And these people, these awful men attacked her. She’s still in the hospital. She had glass inside of her. They raped her with a beer bottle. A beer bottle. Can you imagine?’ My poor, poor baby. Thirteen she is. Thirteen!’ Stella feels it now. She’s shaking. She wants to howl and punch something and curl up into a ball and die,”(Vermette 171).
This quote reveals the trauma that is faced by the family of the thirteen-year-old girl who was raped. I quite like how Vermette was able to demonstrate the struggles of Indigenous women and their families in her novel. It spreads awareness to the readers, as they learn about sexual and gang violence in underdeveloped indigenous communities. Also, after reading this book I got a chance to research young Indigenous girls who got raped and become more informed about the issue.
Katherena Vermette is a very skilled writer and could’ve written anything she wanted to, but her focusing on real-life issues in Indigenous communities has solidified her career. She wanted to write this fictional story about a girl getting raped in The Break(an area in between hydro towers) and spread on the issues that continue to plague First Nation and Metis communities. As a Metis girl herself, she said lived in a North-End community in Winnipeg and saw similar that occurred in the book. She said she has witnessed a lot of Metis girls turn to gang violence, and many of them becoming victims of rape and murder.
In an Interview she said, “There was violence, gang violence and others who committed assault. I always wanted to understand that saying ‘hurt people hurt people’ — to understand what brings a person to commit such harm to another person.
She also talks about gang violence and how it has affected the Indigenous community. It’s because oppression often leads to power struggle, which has in-turn lead to more criminal activity and violence.
In her book she writes, “ ‘It’s a power thing. Rape is about power. She wanted power.’ ”(Vermette 298)
This short quote summarizes how rape is seen as a power struggle in gang warfare, and has affected victims like Emily in this book. And all of this want for power is because Indigenous people have been oppressed for generations.
Ongoing Oppression by the Canadian government
We all know now that the Canadian government had oppressed Indigenous people since the start of European settlements and the formation of this country. As a Canadian, I’m shocked that our government is labelled as genocidal, but after doing some research I’ve found out why there are many protestors. I’ve learned about the overall topic of Oppression of Indigenous people by the Canadian government, and I’ve now realized how it causes high rates of Indigenous deaths, rape and trauma.
For example, The Indian Act has led to many Indigenous women losing their status(either marrying someone non-Indigenous or attending post-secondary) have made them vulnerable to rape. Cultural Appropriation is also a huge issue, as it has led to the over-sexualization of women, leading to a record number of sexual violence. This has been done by selling costumes that depict Indigenous women in a very inaccurate way. Finally, the residential school has caused intergenerational trauma, which has affected Indigenous women to prosper in Canada, as they are often left to rot due to poverty and gang violence.
I can personally connect to the discrimination Indigenous women have gone through, as colonizers in India have done the same. The British would often tax enslaved Indian farmers, and when they weren’t able to pay the tax, they would target the women in families. The punishment was severe and degrading, as women were forced to march nude in the village. And after the march, barbaric Britishers would press their breasts with iron tongs until they bleed. Something that still makes my blood boil, is that the officers would laugh as the women screamed in unbearable pain. And when they fell unconscious, British officers would gang rape the woman. This why I feel very bad for Indigenous women, as colonizers in both countries have extremely tortured them.