Violence against Indigenous women: Looking back through the media
Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. First designated by the UN over a decade ago, it’s meant to address what many consider an epidemic. But violence against Indigenous women and girls remains an active concern for many.
Nowhere is that violence more visible than in the news media. Using various databases, one can find plenty of articles on violence against Indigenous women.
To get a sense of what the media was covering leading up to the first International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I’ve compiled a cross-section of articles that, while far from comprehensive, nonetheless illustrates the violence Indigenous women have faced.
What’s interesting is that while some stories may seem shocking, others sound a little too familiar and similar themes can easily be found in today’s news media. Which means there is plenty of truth in that old saying, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’
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1982: A video game about the rape of an ‘Indian’ woman
Wearing only boots and a hat, the object of this video game was for General George Armstrong Custer to dodge arrows and pursue a naked Indian woman and rape her while she is tied to a pole. “Custer’s Revenge” was released on October 13, 1982 by a company called Mystique for the Atari 2600 console. (Article: “Video game called insult to women,” November 27, 1982, Globe & Mail)
1989: Blind Cree woman left at roadside by police after hit by car
Minnie Sutherland was a 40-year-old Cree woman from Kashechewan, a First Nation community in northern Ontario who died from a fractured skull 10 days after being struck by a car in Hull, Quebec. Witnesses say two Hull police officers dragged Sutherland from the middle of the road to a nearby snowbank, leaving her there and ignoring the pleas of witnesses to call an ambulance. (Article: “Racism blamed in death of Indian,” January 14, 1989, Toronto Star)
1990: Ojibway woman subjected to ongoing racial insults by bureaucrats
Mary Pitawanakwat, an Ojibway woman, worked for the Secretary of State in Regina as a social development officer at a time when the department was overseeing a national campaign to eliminate racial discrimination. But the same department was found guilty by a federal investigator from the Canadian Human Rights Commission for its ‘ongoing racial insults’ toward Ms. Pitawanakwat. Among other indignities, Pitawanakwat was called a ‘goddamn Indian’ by an official, endured jokes by another bureaucrat about being ‘scalped’ by Indians before being unfairly dismissed in 1986. After her dismissal, Mary Pitawanakwat was blacklisted from federal employment. The Human Rights Commission appointed a tribunal to look into her case. (Article: “Ojibway subjected to ‘ongoing insults,’ federal report says,” Geoffrey York, January 11, 1990, Globe and Mail).
1992: Inuk rape victim spends eight days in jail before trial; only mesh wire separates her and assailant
Kitty Nowdluk-Reynolds, 24, originally from Iqaluit was beaten and raped in June 1990 in her home. When she didn’t respond to subpoenas for her own rape trial, Nowdluk-Reynolds was arrested in Vancouver. She spent eight days in jail before being ordered to Iqaluit for the trial. But on the journey back she was forced to sit next to her assailant in a police van, only a mesh wire separating them. According to Nowdluk-Reynolds, “It was like getting raped all over again.” (Article: “Woman gets RCMP apology Inuk rape victim spent eight nights in jail before trial,” April 3, 1992, Toronto Star)
1997: Skeletal remains from more than 100 years ago belonged to native woman: severe blow to head
Skeletal remains were found at Sauble Beach, on the eastern shore of Lake Huron near Saugeen First Nation. According to a forensic anthropologist from the chief coroner’s office in Toronto, the remains belonged to a native woman between 20 and 30 years old. She died as a result of a severe blow to the left side of her head. (Article: “Bones belonged to native woman who died 100 years ago,” The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo), July 17, 1997)