Yesterday I took a different route home from work to pick up some groceries, and because of that different route I came across a few groups of people carrying bright signs. There was a rally at a park down the street from where I live, and these people were heading there with strong messages and photographs of young women. These were young women they knew and loved, and the messages on the signs were about human dignity.
I stopped to thank a couple of them for speaking out on such an important issue – fundamental to human rights and equality – that gets ignored out of shame or ignorance or denial of the source of a number of serious problems faced by a specific population. People speaking out against these violations demonstrate the confidence and assertiveness that provide examples for generations to come, and these voices are much needed by society as a whole.
An arrest was made recently, charging a man with the murder of three young women over the past year. All three were aboriginal – I knew that before seeing their photographs or without reading a news source that mentioned that fact, for two reasons: a) their last names were either anglicized terms of common nomenclature for First Nations culture, or names widely spread in First Nations families through attempts at cultural assimilation; and b) they were three young women murdered by the same man. That’s what’s especially sad. This isn’t an isolated incidence of a sick and twisted man with a strange fixation on a certain type of victim. This is a calculated selection of victims based on unspoken hierarchies that apply different worth to different people.
It’s sad – very sad, and maddening – but true. Many people of “mainstream” Canada prefer to ignore the aboriginal populations inherent to this land’s history aside from their unique traditional dress and cultural ceremonies that look pretty and impress the rest of the world. But the people themselves in the present day, the most visible form is that of the impoverished, the mentally and physically ill, the gang members, and those with accents that tell you they probably grew up on a reserve and came to the city to cause trouble. People who work downtown either ignore them or complain about them. The social problems facing them aren’t always turned to with a blind eye, but the by-your-own-bootstraps attitude breeds resentment from mainstream Canadians who have jobs and think that’s the solution and it’s easy and anyone who doesn’t get a job is the cause of their own woes. These attitudes towards the plight of native peoples projects the blame onto them for their own problems, and so if something bad happens there is little sympathy.
Sociopaths can pick up on this better than almost anyone outside of activism or academic discipline in mainstream society. They know that missing aboriginal people will only be worried about from their families who, from this systemic oppression that came in so many forms over the past few hundred years, are of more limited means on average compared to white families. They know that young women, through the institution of sexism, seek attention and validation through their sexuality (hence rape being blamed on what the victim was wearing), and marginalized young women may see that as their primary opportunity to be accepted into society at large. Their self esteem is not as high because of all of this, and they are easily lured into threatening situations. This is why sociopaths hunt down young aboriginal women. This is why three of them, at least, have been abducted and probably raped before being murdered by one man.
This is why there have been so many missing or raped and murdered young aboriginal women from the past several decades. This is why, walking down Portage Avenue approaching an underpass for cars and pedestrians to be uninterrupted by trains, there is a mural of several young aboriginal women who went missing – very beautiful young women, with beside their faces the age at which they went missing and/or were found dead. There isn’t enough room to add these three women and probably many more who have faced a similar tragic demise since the mural was painted. And the mural hasn’t done enough to make the populace care about this issue as much as they would for any other type of person. Well, I would give most people the benefit of the doubt that they care, and know how terrible it is for any human being. But the sense of responsibility for this problem, institutional responsibility that from many directions has brewed this sour and poisonous atrocity, is lost on most people.
And so we will undoubtedly find more dead bodies like those of Carolyn Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith. We will come across the bodies of missing women like Tanya Nepinak, before or after their abductor and murderer are caught. There are many more existing cases of such missing women. And adding further to the extreme level of grief their families and communities are already facing, the closure may never come. Closure, and healing from it, is important to First Nations cultures. It’s an additional stab in the hearts of communities that are struggling enough as it is.