Why Victoria marches

Op-eds Opinions

Violence towards Indigenous people in Canada is not only historical

Stolen Sisters March. Photo by Anabelle Budd, Editorial Assistant

On Feb. 17, I participated in Victoria’s Stolen Sisters Memorial March, standing behind the Indigenous women, girls, and 2spirit drummers and singers who were leading the community. We walked to remember and honour Indigenous women, girls, and 2spirit people who have gone missing and been murdered on this land.

My name is Anabelle Budd. My parents are both from France, but they moved to Mexico in the early 1990s. I was born and raised in Mexico City, largely within a French community, and moved to Montreal for university in 2011. I finally settled in Victoria in 2015 and acknowledge that I did so with no invitation from the Lekwungen communities, Songhees, and Esquimalt First Nations, on whose unceded and traditional territories I now reside. That settling requires acknowledgment.

Despite the heavy rain and strong winds, the community showed up to the Stolen Sisters march in large numbers. The march began at Our Place Society and concluded in front of the Legislature, where we gathered to listen to powerful songs and speakers.

We were present because in Canada, Indigenous women are 16 times more likely to be murdered or missing than white women. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, that number rises to 19 times more likely.

“This feels like pre-Civil Rights Era in the American South.”

A week prior to this march, on Feb. 10, a group gathered in front of the courthouse in a show of solidarity with Colten Boushie and his family.

Boushie, a 22 year old from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, was shot and killed on a farm while out driving with his friends on Aug. 9, 2016. On Feb. 9, 2018, a visibly all-white jury ruled that Gerald Stanley, the farmer accused of shooting Boushie, was acquitted of all charges. Stanley walked free.

Nikki Sanchez, a PhD student in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria, spokesperson for the David Suzuki Foundation, and Indigenous media consultant, organized the vigil in Victoria.

“The consistent statement being echoed through the crowd [was that] this feels like pre-Civil Rights Era in the American South,” Sanchez says. “To have a judge and jury that are entirely white deliberating over a case that is so racially charged . . . in an era of reconciliatory politics and rhetoric . . . is such blatant injustice.”

In Canada, Indigenous men account for approximately 71 per cent of Indigenous homicide victims in Canada, meaning that Indigenous men are murdered in greater numbers and at higher rates relative to the general population — than even Indigenous women.

A week after the Stolen Sisters Memorial March, on Feb. 23 and 24, marches were organized across the country and in Victoria to demand justice for Tina Fontaine, in the aftermath of yet another not-guilty verdict that left questions about her death unsolved. Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation, was found dead in August 2014. Her case became a catalyst for Canada’s national inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

How are stories and numbers like these possible?

“Canada”: An Origin Story

To understand these cases in their full complexity, it is critical to place them within their historical and cultural context.

The premise of Canadian identity arose at the time of the Confederation. It is one of “pioneers” settling across vast stretches of unoccupied lands and rendering them productive. This myth, which reflects colonialization’s driving thirst for economic (hence territorial) power, was heavily promoted by the new Canadian state, in its call for the conquest of the West.

But considering the vast stretches of lands were not actually unoccupied, the achievement of territorial power depended on the active and systematic removal and erasure of Indigenous Peoples from their lands. The state and its pioneers justified this by invoking their constructed notion of racial superiority, widely promoted by colonial states at the time.

Indigenous men in Canada were associated with laziness or violence, while Indigenous women were portrayed as promiscuous and immoral. This gendered racialization of Indigenous people heightened the violence they faced, both from the state and from settlers, because it depicted them as dangerous and less-worthy. Further, these conceptions fed white fear and fueled geographic segregation.

While this may sound like a history lesson, social constructions of this magnitude are disturbingly tenacious, and if we want to understand events happening today, we can’t ignore the traumas of the past.

Canada’s Law: Rosemary’s Baby

Once the Canadian state had ingrained notions of racial superiority into the minds of its pioneers and fueled their desire to settle on territory, it needed a tool to actively remove and erase Indigenous Peoples from their land. It found it in the Canadian legal system and its enforcer, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The RCMP, previously called the North-West Mounted Police, was created in 1873. It was conceived as a temporary, federal police force that would assist the government in administering the settlement of the North-West Territories. Over time, the force’s goals became the restriction of Indigenous movement to their reserves and the preparation of treaty negotiations between Indigenous people and the Canadian government. Treaties, many of which were signed but never honoured, were considered by the non-Indigenous negotiators as a legal, inexpensive, and convenient ways to remove Indigenous people from their lands, thus freeing up resources destined to white settlers.

Amidst fears of Indigenous uprisings in the West, the Mounted Police force was never dismantled, and instead began to enforce the laws of the Canadian state, in particular those laid down by the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA). The DIA’s mandate — guided by the Indian Act — was the restriction of Indigenous people to reserves and their assimilation (read: erasure) into Canadian society, namely through the residential school system.

“Most settler Canadians don’t want to come to terms with what we’re facing in terms of the levels of injustice,” Sanchez tells me.

“In terms of providing historical context, the only reason the RCMP was created in Canada — the first role of the RCMP in Canada — was to remove Indigenous children from their families and to lock Indigenous people on reserves,” says Sanchez. “That’s the origin of the RCMP, to police Indigenous bodies.

“Nothing has fundamentally changed about it.”

As for Canada’s legal system, it was not created in consultation with Indigenous Peoples. The Indian Act, Canada’s key piece of legislation as it relates to Indigenous Peoples, was conceived as a tool of assimilation and cultural destruction.

“Everything about [the Canadian legal system] has been created to validate colonial rule and occupation of these lands,” argues Sanchez. “That system was never created to recognize or uphold justice for Indigenous people.”

So where does this history leave us?

The Tenacious Remains of the Colonial System

“[The Colten Boushie case] really woke up a sleeping giant of tension between rural farmers and Indigenous communities,” Sanchez says, explaining that when Gerald Stanley shot Colten Boushie in the head he was embodying the belief that “if you come on my property you deserve to die.”

“That’s a very frontier-esque, Wild West, colonial notion of how you engage with Indigenous people when you occupy their property,” Sanchez says.

Everything about this murder brings us back to settlements and colonial frontiers: from Stanley’s violence, to the behaviour of the RCMP when delivering the news to Boushie’s family — the police force raided their home and treated them as suspects — to the trial by the all-white jury and the acquittal.

The RCMP and the Canadian legal system are the institutions Canadians rely on when their rights are in jeopardy. They are the institutions they go to for justice. But these institutions carry a heavy history of violence against Indigenous people. They carry with them over a century of policies and procedures driven by the tenacious belief in racial superiority and the sacred nature of private property. And Sanchez says they have managed to avoid any kind of honest restructuring or review that might allow this country to move forward.

In Canada, Indigenous women are 16 times more likely to be murdered or missing than white women. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, that number rises to 19 times more likely.

In Canada, Gerald Stanley, a white farmer, can shoot and kill Colten Boushie, a young Cree man, and go free.

“Most settler Canadians don’t want to come to terms with what we’re facing in terms of the levels of injustice,” Sanchez tells me.

This begs the question: will you?

 On March 14, you can start by joining UVic’s Indigenous Law Students’ Association in challenging the failures of the Canadian justice system. There will be a student walkout at 11 a.m., protest march around Ring Road, and demonstration in front of the Faculty of Law.