The Northwest Territories/Nunavut Council of Friendship Centres wants to see Northern Aboriginal languages used in a new human trafficking campaign launched this year by the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) to address gender-based violence and the large number of missing Aboriginal women.
“In the North, we’re different. A lot of people in the small communities, especially elders, listen to the radio in their own languages, like on CKLB or CBC. So we would like to have this campaign transmitting its messages in Chipewyan, Tlicho, Slavey on the posters, on the radio, on TV, etcetera,” Rita Catholique, executive director for the NWT/NU Council of Friendship Centres, told The Journal.
Language was one of the handful of things discussed at an informational session on human trafficking held in Yellowknife two weeks ago. The session discussed the intersections between being Aboriginal and human trafficking, and also served as a launching pad for the public to provide input into how to best advance the national campaign within the Aboriginal community.
The Human Trafficking Against Aboriginal People Public Awareness Campaign has an overall goal to decrease domestic human trafficking among Aboriginal peoples.
“We know human trafficking is occurring. We know it’s happening here in the North, too, but it’s just not being recorded a lot of the time and I think it’s more shrouded in secrecy here,” Catholique said. “People are getting abducted, people are going missing, people are being forced into sex work, especially Aboriginal people. We are a high risk group because of such a legacy of disparities.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
In UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, sexual exploitation was noted as by far the most commonly identified form of human trafficking.
It’s estimated that thousands of Aboriginal women in Canada have gone missing and been murdered since the 1980s. According to a 2005-2010 study from the Native Women’s Association of Canada, there are currently almost 600 documented cases of missing women, not considering the unofficial accounts.
Statistics also point out Aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be victims of violence and those between the ages of 25 and 44 are five times more likely than all other Canadian women in the same cohort to die as a result of violence.
In November, the issue of missing Aboriginal women in the NWT was brought to the Legislative Assembly by Premier Bob McLeod.
“Since Jan. 1, 2000, 35 deaths occurring in the Northwest Territories were classified as homicides by the coroner’s office. Eleven of the victims were women,” McLeod said in the House.
There are 73 missing or unsolved homicide cases open in the NWT, and 63 of these are considered historical missing persons cases. Of those 63, 13 are women, 8 of whom are Aboriginal.
Catholique’s own cousin, Charlene Catholique of Lutsel K’e, has been missing since 1990. She was 15 when she disappeared, last seen accepting a ride in Behchoko to get to Yellowknife.
“To this day we don’t know what happened to her,” Catholique said. “So it’s a campaign close to my heart.”
Alongside the campaign, the NAFC is in the process of establishing a National Aboriginal Advisory Committee (NAAC) made up of regional, youth and expert representation. The NAAC will devise and lead a community engagement plan to gather insight from a wide range of Aboriginal people across the country into the messaging and formats the national campaign materials should assume.
The committee, coupled with the campaign, aims to increase “knowledge sharing and awareness around human trafficking and…increase community capacity to combat human trafficking,” according to NAFC.
Catholique hopes to see promotions of the campaign being carried out in Aboriginal languages by October.
She will be taking part in another executive meeting with NAFC next month to reiterate the importance of including multiple languages.
“It’s important to remember this is first and foremost an Aboriginal initiative, but that it helps everyone,” Catholique said.