Systemic Change and #MMIW

In these times it is so hard to find the words to describe the feeling of seeing the lovely face of another one of our children, and women who have gone missing and been murdered. The news of Tina Fontaine who’s lifeless 15 year old body was fished out of the Red River in Winnipeg, who had endured unknown cruelties, is heartbreaking and enraging. Fontaine’s body was found on Sunday wrapped in a bag in the river after she ran away from her Winnipeg foster home where she had been for less than a month after struggling to deal with the violent death of her father.1

Having been working on many of these issues for years within the Aboriginal community, and within policy work in Ottawa from the sexual exploitation of Aboriginal youth, to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, to more recently the trafficking in persons of Aboriginal children both females and males, it is apparent that there are many ways to categorize both the sexual exploitation and murder of Indigenous people, mainly women and girls in Canada (and North America). We know that there are more children in care today than there were in the Indian Residential School at its height2 (from some of the great work of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society advocacy) but it seems we are unable as a society to begin to address the systemic problems that have given rise to this issue. There are so many reasons why, yet none are able to quell the grief inside from the loss of another Aboriginal girl. There are calls for a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and it is a start. How do we begin to address a systemic issue? Our women and children are vulnerable as a result of abuses often suffered within their own communities as a result of the Indian Residential School and inter-generational Residential school trauma – physical, emotional, sexual abuse that was rampant, the loss of skills of how to parent, and the resulting challenges in coping which lead to addictions of all sorts.

We must go beyond an inquiry, the work that is being done through healing and reconciliation is imperative to finding a way forward. The task of reconciliation and healing our own selves, our own communities is a direct way that we can begin to stop the cycle of inter-generational Residential school trauma that leaves us and our most precious children at risk. Our children cannot continue to be put into foster care and taken out of our communities where they are vulnerable to predators who are seeking them. When Indigenous people (women, girls, boys and men) end up on the streets homeless, suffering with addictions and turn to sex work – how can we protect them?3 They become not only vulnerable to predators but they also become criminals – participating in “illegal” activities. And for those who choose sex work as a lifestyle should still have protections under the law. So now they are not only disenfranchised from their families, communities, at risk, they then often end up being incarcerated from trying to escape a bad situation to begin with. I agree with other advocates out there that a multi-million dollar inquiry is not going to solve this problem and those millions are better spent on healing instead of closing doors on healing organizations such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation it is organizations such as those and a complete rework of the child apprehension system in Canada, rethink on criminalization of sex work, Indigenization of the justice system that will begin the systemic change of healing inter-generational Residential school trauma, and keeping our children safe and at home where they belong – not homeless, in care, or incarcerated.

1 Tina Fontaine, slain teen, struggled with father’s beating death. CBC News, Aug 20, 2014. Retrieved from:

2 First Nations Children Still Taken From Their Parents. Aug 2, 2011. Retrieved from:

3 More #C36 Advice for Sex Workers. Kwe Today. August 18, 2014. Retrieved from:

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Environmental Devastation in Secwepemc Territory

This week we’ve had an environmental disaster occur from the breach of a tailings pond damn in Secwepemc Territory near Likely, BC. From a story by CBC on August 6, 2014 reports:

“the breach of the tailings pond dam at the copper and gold mine near Likely, B.C., released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand, contaminating several lakes, creeks and rivers in the Cariboo region on Monday. A local state of emergency was declared in the Cariboo Regional District on Wednesday, roughly 48 hours after the Mount Polley Mine’s tailings pond wall gave way​.The force of the breach scoured away the banks of Hazeltine Creek and sent debris flowing into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, which rose 1.5 metres.”1

A few of my thoughts on environmental protections needed for a more robust policy on energy/mining: the need for adequate as in 51 percent Aboriginal representation on the National Energy Board, recinding parts of the omnibus bill removing environmental protections for most of our country’s river’s, and a stringent environmental assessment process, strict fines in the multi-million dollar levels for environmental infractions would all be a good start.

I’d love to hear others thoughts on this as environmental policy isn’t my forte these are just a few observations from over the years. The Environmental Code of Practice for Metal Mines seems to have a lot of “shoulds” and not enough legal requirements. It is absolutely shocking that a clean up that could amount to tens of millions of dollars will result in a fine of $1 million dollars.

As it is communities are organizing to gather water and fish for the communities as there is a complete ban on drinking the water.


1 Mount Polley mine tailings spill: Imperial Metals could face $1M fine, August 6, 2014, CBC

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What connects you to your Aboriginal culture in the city?

So after a hiatus these last 15 months after the cross country move, for the next several weeks (and over the summer) I am working on my dissertation. I’ve spent the last several days, and really time on and off the last couple months, re-acquainting myself to NVivo and my transcripts. I’m currently working on finishing writing up the last 30% of my findings, I’ve already done the bulk of the work (70%) but have several areas that need to be completed. I’ve been working on one specific question the last couple days: what connects you to your Aboriginal culture in the city? I’ve been writing about that for the last five years of my work both in the federal government, within my research and really just thinking about it because it’s a part of my life. You would not believe the power of the words of the people that I talked to within my research. They warm my heart, they ground me, they connect me. People think that doing research is so alienating, that it’s so distant from being directly connected to our people. You know what? This is storytelling at its absolute best and finest. My job as a humble researcher, as a storyteller, is to share their words with the world that can do it just a little bit of justice and I feel unworthy of it.

How I’ve missed this. Just to give you a small, little taste of my privilege, I’m going to share one quote that really hit me today, it really struck home to the Indigenous experience today to Indigeneity to Aboriginality (love those words), I hope you enjoy them and understand them:

I grew up in Ottawa, in the sense that I came as I was transitioning from youth to young adult, so as I’ve learnt here that the life stages teachings are much for young adults for taking up the work of the people. The great thing about taking up the work of the people and serving in this age is that you learn more about yourself: how you like to take up the work; what you don’t like taking up the work. [Laughs] So you grow a lot that way by doing service to the community (Female research participant).

We grow and we learn in service to our community, I’ve been in service my whole life and always will be.

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Reflections on urban Aboriginality, anthropology, research, policy, politics, family and life

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