Time to Act is Now: A National Action Plan to address violence against Indigenous Women & Girls
As Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, I add my voice in support of the many grassroots Indigenous women’s organizations and advocates who are calling on the federal government to address the national crisis of violence committed against Inuit, First Nations, and Métis women and girls. Five years have now passed since the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was announced. It is almost a year and half since the final report and Calls for Justice was released. On October 4th, Sisters in Spirit vigils were held across Canada to honour cherished women and girls stolen by violence.
We must not allow the COVID-19 pandemic to further delay the government response to this long-standing pandemic of violence. Since March, we have seen racism, intimate partner violence, homelessness and human trafficking all increase, which impact Indigenous women and girls more than any other group. We can save lives and trauma if we move swiftly to implement a National Action Plan to address violence against Indigenous women and girls.
As I write this, Indigenous women and girls continue to live in fear of violence. They wonder if they might be the next to disappear. Many continue to go missing from their communities and some are murdered. In fact, we know that Indigenous women are at least 6 times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women in Canada. The families impacted by this national crisis continue to have few supports to help them cope with their grief. There are too few programs that offer cultural supports to enable their healing. Many families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls continue to search for answers about what happened to their loved ones. This is unfair and not how victims of crime should be treated in Canada.
Researchers and advocates have noted how intersecting social and economic challenges contribute to the exploitation of Indigenous women and increase their vulnerability to violence. Systemic racism and discrimination are present across many institutions including health care, employment, child welfare, education, food security, homelessness and housing, policing, justice, social services, etc. We must prioritize the safety of Indigenous women and girls as they navigate systems and services, as well as their safety at home, within their families, in their communities and in public spaces.
I agree with experts who have said Indigenous women know best which solutions will work and how to implement them meaningfully. Their knowledge, lived experience and expertise must be integrated into the National Action Plan. It is time to provide access to sustainably funded, trauma-informed, and culturally-based social services and programs, led by Indigenous women, to meet their needs.
If we do so, we will move towards reconciliation and improve safety while also addressing the systemic causes of violence, which have resulted in far too many missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We can no longer only talk about what we should do. We need to take action NOW, because Indigenous lives are at risk every day.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime