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Colonialism: totally a thing of the past! (or, lots of missing and murdered women who just happen to be Indigenous)

December 8, 2010

Another crosspost from Dreamwidth, combining two | posts.

I felt like I needed a bath in Clorox after making the mistake of reading some comments on a commentary piece by Renee Martin at the Guardian (UK), “On Canada’s ‘Highway of Tears’: Violence against indigenous women is not only a crime, but a reflection of Canada’s refusal to repudiate its colonial history”.

Yeah, I usually avoid comments on larger news sites. I almost wish I had this time. I have noticed hostility before whenever colonialism is brought up, but the attempts at derailing and nastiness on this one are something special. (Throw together misogyny, willful ignorance1, and enduring colonial racism, and that’s not really a surprise.) They seem bent on proving her main point:

These murders and disappearances will only be seen as the great loss that they are when Canadians acknowledge the value each indigenous woman has.

The way defensiveness and general arsiness overrides any sense of humanity is probably what bothered me the most. No colonialist attitudes there! *headdesk*

An example of the kind of internal sense even the not-so-blatantly-trolly ones make:

The cases mention raise several points for me –

1) Truck drivers and the roads they operate on are inextricably linked with the murder of lone, vulnerable women. This is true the world over.

2) Women from ethnic minorities are more likely to be poor and therefore more likely to be victims of this type of crime either because they are sex workers or because they are put in position where the only means of transport avaiable is hitch-hiking. Again, this is true the world over.

3) The Highway of Tears does not demonstrate Canada’s “failure to stem the tide of violence that aboriginal women face”. Rather, these are isolated and extreme cases. I’m sure most of the violence committed against these women is perpetrated by partners and family members who are themselves indigenous.

4) There is no clear, tenable link between these crimes and Canada’s “colonial past”. That’s a leap too far.

Yeah. You get a lot of poor, desperate indigenous (now minority) women spontaneously appearing out of thin air to get killed by their Own Kind, or inevitably by truck drivers, in some kind of economic and social vacuum–no colonialism required. And that was from one of the less blatantly trolly comments.

And this isn’t even the Daily Fail.


Not to inflate the last post too much, here’s Amnesty’s report: Stolen Sisters: Discrimination and violence against Indigenous women in Canada, which I unaccountably forgot to link.

And, yeah, similar factors are pointed out:

According to a Canadian government statistic, young Indigenous women are five times more likely than other women of the same age to die as the result of violence.

Indigenous women have long struggled to draw attention to violence within their own families and communities. Canadian police and public officials have also long been aware of a pattern of racist violence against Indigenous women in Canadian cities – but have done little to prevent it.

The pattern looks like this:

* Racist and sexist stereotypes deny the dignity and worth of Indigenous women, encouraging some men to feel they can get away with acts of hatred against them.

* Decades of government policy have impoverished and broken apart Indigenous families and communities, leaving many Indigenous women and girls extremely vulnerable to exploitation and attack.

* Many police forces have failed to institute necessary measures – such as training, protocols and accountability mechanisms – to ensure that officers understand and respect the Indigenous communities they serve. Without such measures, police too often fail to do all they can to ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls whose lives are in danger.


Deep rooted patterns of racism and discrimination in Canadian society have contributed to this violence in a number of ways. These include pushing Indigenous women into situations of increased vulnerability to violence, denying many Indigenous women adequate protection of police and the justice system, and sending a message to Indigenous and non-Indigenous men alike that they can likely get away with acts of violence against Indigenous women…

It is also clear from these stories that all Indigenous women – whether or not they have ever had involvement with what police and politicians sometimes label “high risk lifestyles” – may be targeted for violence or denied protection from violence simply because they are Indigenous women. The 1991 Manitoba Justice Inquiry concluded that racism and sexism intersect in dangerous stereotypes of Indigenous women as sexually “available” to men.

I cannot readily find stats on how many of these crimes are committed by non-Indigenous men, unlike the 86% figure for the US.

But, in the previous post, we’re talking about more than 500 missing and murdered women, “half of them since the year 2000…the equivalent of 18,000 missing and murdered non-aboriginal women”. And this is still getting treated as a few isolated cases.

ETA: See also Jessica Yee’s Making the connections: Sexual Violence in Native Communities, now that I’ve located the link. She goes into how little attention this usually gets, and asks some excellent questions:

HOW is it that you don’t know?…WHY don’t the women in our Native communities measure up in priority?…WHAT are YOU going to do with this information now that you know about it?


1 Like the bit that says:

According to the US Department of Justice, in at least 86 per cent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men. [similar holds for stalking, etc.- U.]

Sexual violence against Indigenous women is the result of a number of factors including a history of widespread and egregious human rights violations against Indigenous peoples in the USA. Indigenous women were raped by settlers and soldiers in many infamous episodes including during the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk. Such attacks were not random or individual; they were tools of conquest and colonization. The underlying attitudes towards Indigenous peoples that supported these human rights violations committed against them continue to be present in society and culture in the USA. They contribute to the present high rates of sexual violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and help to shield their attackers from justice.

Those factors don’t somehow vanish once you cross the Canadian border. And with the hateful denialist shit that people feel like it’s OK to say, no damned wonder the situation is the way it is.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 4:07 pm

    About the “troll”s comment you cited above:

    And why is it that the Native women tend to be poor… coincidence?

    If you follow the logic….

    • urocyon permalink
      December 8, 2010 5:13 pm

      Exactly. There’s no colonialism, sexism, or racism at all–people are just poor, probably through some fault of their own, and (especially poor) women inevitably get attacked and killed a lot. People are just making this stuff up, when they can’t point to any individual who is responsible for all of it. (Another repeating theme.) It just doesn’t make any sense, and you’ve got to be pretty desperate to come up with stories like that. Which seems to make the folks spouting this stuff even more hostile; on some level, they know it makes no sense.

      Again, I can’t help but think of Blackfire’s “Level”, with “You say it’s nothing, I bring it all up in my mind” as a refrain. (Not to mention “it’s not what you say, I know how you lie”. 😐 )

      And unfortunately, I referred to that particular one as “not-so-blatantly-trolly” because it’s not an uncommon set of attitudes. Feeling the need to do the ‘splaining in the first place is kinda trollish, but it struck me as the “combat cognitive dissonance” kind of ‘splaining rather than purposeful trolling. Which makes it even more frustrating, in a way.

  2. ther1 permalink
    December 8, 2010 6:29 pm

    If you hadn’t pointed out the cognitive dissonance in those reports I may never have noticed it at all-this is the same “you are what you is” rhetoric used to describe autistics that I’ve heard and read all my life.

    It kind of reminds me from contradictory passages from Gorillas in the Mist-the point of the book was to show how “valuable” and “similar to humans” gorillas are, but baby and child gorillas were usually referred to as “infants” or” juveniles;” teens were “subadults.” I know they are definitely not human and that the book is a study, but the scientific language of Fossey’s book muddles the compassion one is expected to feel for the apes.

    These reports on Indigenous women make them seem as helpless, brutish and hunted as the gorillas.

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