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: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/tina-fontaine-slain-teen-struggled-with-father-s-beating-death-1.2741842
2 First Nations Children Still Taken From Their Parents. Aug 2, 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/first-nations-children-still-taken-from-parents-1.1065255
3 More #C36 Advice for Sex Workers. Kwe Today. August 18, 2014. Retrieved from: http://kwetoday.com/2014/08/18/more-c36-advice-for-sex-workers/