President’s November Message

The topic of the recent CFUW Charitable Trust Webinar, “Women in Education: Indigenous Experiences,” got me thinking about one of my concerns, that of the welfare of Indigenous Women. There have been many adverse consequences of Colonialism (broken treaty agreements, racism, dislocation i.e. removal from ancestral lands and the abomination of Residential Schools) endured by First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people in Canada.

In 2012, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released a 19-page report containing 94 calls to action! Having only heard of it, I downloaded and read it. It makes recommendations on such issues as childcare, education, legal rights, health and even calls for a change in the oath taken by new citizens to observe not only the laws of Canada, but also treaties with Indigenous peoples. What a wonderful world if Canada enacted all these changes.

What is Reconciliation? For CFUW members it means not only learning about historical discrimination and dispossession faced by Aboriginal peoples, but also learning about their diverse and rich culture. It means generating concrete actions to show support, appreciation and solidarity, and engaging in restoring relationships and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Nationally, our 100 clubs in all provinces of Canada have voted for several Resolutions advocating for the support and education of Aboriginal Women. The high prevalence of violence against Indigenous Women across Canada has been deeply concerning for CFUW members. In 2015, CFUW passed a Resolution supporting the call from Indigenous Women’s groups and communities for a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The National Initiative For Indigenous Peoples was approved at the 2017 AGM in Richmond, BC. It states that we will intensify our efforts to learn more about the issues facing the First Nation, Metis, and Inuit peoples. Also in 2017, CFUW members approved the Right to Safe, Clean, Accessible and Affordable Drinking Water and Sanitation on First Nations Reserves in Canada. Progress on this issue has been slow and problems continue, resulting in disease and health problems in Aboriginal communities. In December last year, CFUW President, Grace Hollett, wrote a letter to the Minister of Indigenous Services, Jane Philpott, supporting increased funding for this need. You can see this letter by Googling CFUW, click on National Initiatives, then Indigenous Peoples. Clubs and individual members are also encouraged to write letters to their elected representatives.

I want to commend our CFUW St. Catharines Program Committees and their Chairs, Karen MacKay, Heather Hall, and Denise Bradden, for their diligence in furthering our knowledge of these peoples by scheduling such speakers as MaryLou Ware, a volunteer working to help young First Nations moms and dads in Northern Quebec, who were struggling with a lack of parenting role models as a result of being removed from their homes at a young age (2016), Jodi-Lynn Waddilove, who described her experiences becoming a First Nation’s Lawyer (2017), and our November 13, 2018 General Meeting speaker, Darcy Bolanger, an Indigenous Liaison, who will talk about the 60’s Scoop. This is a term that refers to a practice that occurred in Canada of taking, or “scooping up”, Indigenous children from their families and communities for placement in foster homes or adoption. Despite the reference to one decade, the Sixties Scoop began in the late 1950s and persisted into the 1980s. (Residential Schools which tried to stamp out the culture of “squaws and savages” existed for 100 years. Incredibly, the last closing was actually in the ‘90s!) The book, “The Reason You Walk: A Memoir” by Wab Kinew gave me much insight into the effects of Colonialism on one young Anishinaabe man and his family

The speakers for the CFUW Charitable Trust Webinar on Oct.13th, advised that Indigenous students need opportunities for employment, and scholarships for their success. A copy of the proceedings will be available for member viewing shortly.

Part 2

I thought the Truth and Reconciliation Report, and the CFUW Resolutions had pretty much covered the issues facing Indigenous Peoples so I was shocked when I attended a Parallel Event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this past March entitled “The Mass Incarceration of Rural Indigenous Women in Canada.”

The Institute for International Women’s Rights (IIWR), Manitoba delegation, presented a panel discussion moderated by Mary Scott, a member of CFUW Manitoba. The presenters described the crisis of increasing numbers of Indigenous women in jails in Manitoba and pointed out that unreasonable and prejudicial practices are still happening not only there but nationally.

Between 2002 and 2012, the representation of Aboriginal women in Federal Corrections grew a staggering 97% and thus is the fastest growing offender population. Moreover, there is no indication of any anticipated decline. According to Statistics Canada, in 2016-2017, Indigenous women accounted for 43% of female admissions but are only 5% of the Canadian adult population.  Ninety-one percent have been sexually and/or physically abused.

The impact of colonization, the Residential School system, the Sixties Scoop and oppressive government policies and laws have impoverished Aboriginal communities and have left Aboriginal female children and women vulnerable to exploitation and violence. Furthermore, racism, discrimination, and poverty have denied the dignity and self-worth of Aboriginal women and children.

Debra Parkes, Law Professor at UBC observed that when Aboriginal women have been experiencing violence and have been victimized, they aren’t believed by the police the way they should be. They aren’t provided with resources to escape the violence and are often criminalized for their defensive response to that violence. They are given a high security rating and denied participation in programs that could help them reintegrate into their communities.

Dawn Harvard, Interim President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, observes that “The justice system lacks an understanding of the lives of Indigenous women.” She is deeply concerned that non-violent crimes committed by Indigenous women are ending up as indeterminate sentences because of punishments given inside the prison.

What can be done? One approach is to provide healing pathways and use elders and Indigenous-derived Justice. Community-based release options designed for Indigenous Peoples have existed for 25 years under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act but have been drastically underused. We need a system of Restorative Justice, based on healing, but 20 years of research results are being ignored. Using a culture-based system works for both the victim and the offender.

In May 2018, Senator Kim Pate introduced Bill S-251 which repeals the Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Policy and allows judicial discretion in sentencing if warranted. Search Bill S-251 on the web for the full text. The government has 180 days to respond to the recommendation. At the very least, we can support this very positive change.