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How much do you know about Canada’s Aboriginal women?

The recent report by the RCMP concerning the rising rates of violent crime against aboriginal women is an issue of utmost importance and cannot be ignored anymore. How much do we actually know about aboriginal women?

In Canada, we pride ourselves on loads of things like our undying politeness, public healthcare (take that America!), Tim Hortons and our wondrous peacekeeping ways. But we still have some major shortcomings that should not be overlooked.

Being in the midst of Aboriginal Awareness Week, recent news reports regarding the harrowing crime rates within the reserve communities across the country still serve as a blatant reminder of the lingering ignorance and disregard for one of the most at-risk Canadian cultural groups. It may be high time to get a dialogue going.

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One of the more disturbing bits of revelatory news to come out lately concerns the uncertain futures of aboriginal women who overwhelmingly dominate the list of homicide victims and missing persons list in the country (proportional to their population). So much so, that this phenomenon has been labelled an “epidemic”. . . Yet it rarely makes the news. On these frightful grounds, we challenge you to shed those comfort blankets of indifference, learn the facts and get proactive. Way too many of us clearly don’t know anything about aboriginal women and are stunted by our lack of awareness.

The cold facts

So, do you think you know enough about the aboriginal community and the crime rates in Canada? Think again. Per an RCMP report made public this month, aboriginal women are more likely to face a violent death than their non-native counterparts, which should force us to reshuffle our perception of the most at-risk communities. Keyword: “should.

While aboriginal women are only 4.3 per cent of the total female population in Canada, they happen to comprise 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of female missing cases in the past 30 years. In the three-decade span of the RCMP study, a total of 1,181 instances of aboriginal women’s homicide and missing person cases were filed. While the rates of homicide and foul play incidents have been plummeting across the board in Canada, they have actually been steadily rising in aboriginal communities.

As it stands, there are still 225 unsolved cases from the past three decades — 120 homicides and 105 missing or foul play. Shockingly enough, more than a staggering 90 per cent of female aboriginal victims knew their killer, with 29 per cent of murders being committed by a spouse. Yet, the Canadian government has been unable to defuse this “epidemic,” which remains on the rise and clearly indicates a need for reformation.

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The fine print

Most of us have grown fond of our rather easy living. We have access to clean running water, food, electricity, high speed Internet and other valuable luxuries. But life is not that easy on some of Canada’s reserves, which largely function under the poverty line. Many reserves offer no access to basic education or healthcare, let alone any amenities. Based on the 2001 survey, 48.6 per cent of the aboriginal population in Canada did not graduate high school and a survey taken in 2000 indicated that 65.1 per cent of the aboriginal population lived on a salary below $20,000. Yet according to Canadian statistics, aboriginal women have a fertility rate of 2.6 children, which puts most of the families on reserves at poverty risk.

It may also surprise you (or not) that 44 per cent of aboriginal female victims had a criminal record and 63 per cent consumed an intoxicant before death. This could be directly related to widespread alcoholism on the reserves, which is more than double Canada’s average. Furthermore, a 2001 survey indicates that 27.7 per cent of aboriginals on reserves were unemployed, compared to only a 7.3 per cent rate in the rest of Canada.

The negligence of the Canadian government in regards to the reserve communities is quite evident, as are the effects of that negligence. The abandonment of aboriginal people severs them from the rest of the country and leaves them to fend for themselves, drowning in poverty and devastatingly high rates of violent crime. These are very visibly reflected in the mistreatment of aboriginal females, who rarely even have access to proper women’s shelters.

If we must repeat it, there have been 1,181 reported homicides and missing cases against aboriginal women in the last 30 years. That is beyond frightening. These are mothers, daughters, sisters and friends who are lost, whose lives are taken from them with little trace — even in the local news. This needs to end, and it all starts with awareness. You can keep informed by following the Native Women’s Association of Canada. What do you think about all of this?

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