When you look at the population of Trent, it’s hard to miss the fact that it mostly consists of women. Peers and friends, sisters, mothers, cousins, significant others …these titles are what women are, among many other things.
Now imagine any one of those women is murdered or missing.
It makes no difference what their background or heritage is, it is unsettling and upsetting to think of, but the fact that background or heritage is part of it makes it even more disturbing.
That is what Liz Stone, executive director of the Niijkiwendidaa Anishnaabekwewag Centre in Peterborough, wants us all to understand.
“I think the reason people feel uncomfortable is because they feel the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women has always been identified as an Aboriginal problem, but the thing about it is that it isn’t an Aboriginal problem, it’s a Canadian problem.”
Recently, some major political parties have been trying to get people on board to sign petitions for a national inquiry specifically on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
Also, the RCMP released a report this year, which can be found on their website, with the following statistics:
There have been 164 missing women cases reported to the police, and 1,181 reported murders, and 225 unsolved cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal females. According to the report, there is hardly a difference in “solve rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal victims.”
Stone said the report revealed more numbers because the RCMP has access to reports and documents that local organizations working on the ground don’t have access to, but that the time and money put into government inquiries and reports may be better put to use going into the on-the-ground organizations.
Lynn Zimmer, executive director of the YWCA of Peterborough, Victoria and Haliburton, agrees:
“I think for so many generations of Aboriginal women in Canada to have been so at risk of violence, abuse and sexual assault … now it’s coming to light and now we have a sense of the horrifying numbers of women who are murdered and missing.”
Local organizations such as Niijkiwedidaa Anishnaabekwewag, with the partnership of the YWCA and Amnesty’s Stolen Sisters, help the cause by raising awareness in the community.
The first phase of the Sisters in Spirit initiative began in 2005, through the Native Women’s Association, and Stone said the Aboriginal community in Peterborough has been on board with it since its beginning, whether in silence on the side of the road or through sister agencies.
This year’s vigil was held on Oct. 4, in Peterborough. The march started in front of city hall, proceeded down George Street, and ended at the Memorial Centre, where the vigil was held.
People of all ages came out to support. There were also a number of men, something that Stone said she hoped to see.
“It’s also not just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue. Just by showing solidarity and being [at the event], then their voice is heard, their numbers are seen, and with it being a diverse crowd, not just indigenous people or women, it lends validity to what’s going on and [shows] that people care.”
Zimmer also feels that this isn’t just an Aboriginal women’s issue. “We all need to be part of protecting those women and protecting their stories. We need to connect with more Canadians, have them be more aware of this and to be feeling responsible to make the change happen.”
Although there is support and a good turnout at events, Stone still doesn’t feel that the issue is recognized enough by the general citizens in Peterborough due to a lack of accurate information and the amount of unintentional ignorance.
She encourages everyone to do his or her research before speaking out.
“I really hope that people take the time to find out what the issues are. Those ignorant or unknowledgeable comments that come to our agency and to individuals aren’t acceptable. Take the time to read the RCMP reports … take the time to come in to agencies like Niijkiwendidaa and see what we do.”