Seeking the Breaking Point: Violence and Justice in Canada
For more than fifteen years, I have been working on issues of violence in Indigenous communities in BC. I have become familiar with the state of the justice system in Canada, with its huge over-representation of Indigenous people in detention centres and an accompanying lack of concern for those of us who are victims of violent crime.
It is a norm in Canada to view Indigenous people as criminals, as inherently violent, rather than as human beings worthy of the same protection from violence afforded to other citizens. This should no longer be surprising to me, but some days, the truth seems harder to bear than others.
Take today, for example. While wasting time on Facebook, I saw a link to an article about the start of this year’s Walk4Justice, a march from Vancouver to Ottawa to raise awareness about violence against Indigenous women. I am familiar with the facts of the high rates of violence against us and the over 700 girls and women who have gone missing from our communities, including the recent disappearance of Angeline Eileen Pete from North Vancouver.
Half way through the article, I read the word “beheaded” and burst into tears, turning my face away from the screen. Apparently, I have reached a breaking point for my ability to hold these truths, as the years and generations of loss pile up on me. I wonder how is it that these ongoing losses, constant deaths, and unrelenting assaults, continue day after day without it being deemed a crisis. And why aren’t First Nations leaders negotiating for a fundamental shift in approaches to ensure Indigenous girls’ and women’s safety, along with our economic development, resource use and treaties? Yes, National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, I am talking to you.
Where are these ongoing violations in your list of priorities? Women and girls are not just “disappearing” from our communities into some unknown non-space. They are somewhere. They are being made to disappear by individuals acting within a system that has been designed to facilitate our demise.
A few minutes later, I go back online to see if the Walk4Justice has received any media coverage from CBC, and, in the process of discovering there was no coverage, I come across an article about a hearing taking place in northern BC. Last year, some cops covered themselves in face paint and camouflage, drove out to a remote hunting ground and shot a Gitxsan man in the back who had failed to show up for a court date.
Today, the man’s family heard that the man was likely unarmed, holding a rake rather than a gun. The police might have assumed he would be holding a hunting rifle, seeing as they sought him out at place he specifically used for hunting. Did they drive out there assuming he would be armed, wanting to hunt him down as they would an animal? The ‘undertones’ of racism are hardly undertones — they are overt, systemic and endemic to the way justice is structured in this country. What will it take for the system to be acknowledged as part of the problem, serving to normalize violence against Indigenous people, while locking us up at ever-growing rates?
As I continue to harden myself in order to face the ongoing state of assault in our communities, I can only hope more and more people will start to be moved by these losses, rather than experience them as unexceptional, normal, as just another day in Canada.