Violence against Indigenous women and girls is an incredibly daunting issue to engage. Many feel as helpless and unequipped to deal with it as we do with the idea of securing justice; it seems entirely out of our hands.
Indigenous women are subject to overlapping forms of violence: physical, gendered, systemic, racist, economic… Most of us experience sexual violence at some point in our lifetime, often in repeated incidents, and without retribution. This reality has a way of normalizing violence to the point that many just assume it is a standard part of our lives.
Violence against Indigenous women has a long history going back to 1492, when my Taino ancestors encountered the first Europeans. Gendered violence is one of the most effective weapons of colonization. In order to annex Indigenous lands and exploit resources, our connections to the earth and to our lifegiving force must be broken – which is enacted upon the bodies of our women.
This ongoing legacy is apparent in the overwhelming number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), a crisis we have collectively failed to end. The incessant murders of women such as Cindy Gladue – which are horrifying in their brutality and staggering absence of justice – along with the failure to address the underlying causes, present an unmistakable message: we are in desperate need of ways to protect the lives of Indigenous women and instate accountability.
As long as the status quo prevails, more of us will continue to be killed. Meanwhile, we must also endure the ongoing violence of a society and judicial system that have yet to affirm our rights as human beings.
This barbarity could not continue if enough people were in touch with their own humanity. Eliminating systemic racism and implementing real justice would be humanizing for everyone.
Unfortunately, many of us distance ourselves from the crisis because the incidents are so atrocious, so unthinkable and so profoundly devastating that our impulse is to disengage. But we must be braver than that – we must confront the reality and convert our powerlessness into action.
Each new loss reminds me of how fortunate I am to be alive and how easily I could have ended up like any one of these women. The possibility still stands. Recognizing this compels me to face the sickening reality and work for transformation.
Many courageous people are building awareness and support through public marches, teach-ins, writing, music, art and ceremony. Much of the work is in strengthening connections across communities, and visible in the thousands of Indigenous women who continue to assert their vitality and presence on this earth.
We have every right to life and to justice. We deserve to be supported and treated as valuable human beings. We belong to freedom, to love, to our cultures and homelands, and we belong in connection to these without ever being harmed. This is what is natural and what should be normalized. Collective compassion; our sense of connectedness; respect for life.
Justice is out of our hands so much of the time, but we cannot neglect the power that is in our hands. We must take accountability and put things right in the ways that we can.
Start by connecting to the experience of MMIWG. What if you were Cindy Gladue? What if it was your daughter, mother, sister or partner? Could you not help but demand justice? Could you not do everything in your power to end this crisis and affirm our right to live?
Show the women and girls in your life that their lives are valuable, that respect is their inheritance. Prioritize their safety and nurture their resilience. Teach men and boys the power of respect, to honour their humanity, and nurture their strength of heart. Find the courage to stand up for what is just. Help protect life.
Don’t stop until the violence is ended and all are free to live.
Siku Allooloo is Inuit, Taino and part of an extended Dene family. She lives in Denendeh.