A historic inquiry into missing and murdered women in Canada has determined that the nation committed genocide against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. The violence stems from a long history of colonial and patriarchal violence, according to the report’s authors. Moreover, they suggest that “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence” still today. Recent sociological research shows that the heightened risk of violence faced by Indigenous women in Canada is also deeply entwined with social stigmatization, poverty, and the lingering impacts of reservations on housing and schools.
With racism and colonization, Indigenous women in Canada have long been labelled as promiscuous, immoral, and sexually available. Today, these stereotypes contribute to victim-blaming and a lack of attention to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. More specifically, law enforcement regularly dismisses reports of missing women and girls as runaways or partiers and, with the media, use these stereotypes to blame these women for making bad choices that contribute to their own victimization.
- Paulina Garía-Del Moral. 2018. “The Murders of Indigenous Women in Canada as Feminicides: Toward a Decolonial Intersectional Reconceptualization of Femicide.” Signs 43(4): 929–954.
Yet many women who hitchhike do so for social and material reasons. Ever since the creation of reservations, these women face barriers to transportation and mobility. Such challenges are only exacerbated by poverty and homelessness. For Indigenous women and girls in other words, hitchhiking a logical, even necessary form of travel.
- Katherine Morton. 2016. “Hitchhiking and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Billboards on the Highway of Tears.” Canadian Journal of Sociology 41(3): 299-326.
Then, there is also the problem of violence committed by law enforcement officers themselves. Even when publicized (as one egregious such case from 2011 was) police officers rarely face prosecution — further reinforcing the idea that Indigenous women and girls can be exploited with impunity. These abuses of power are part of systemic injustices in the criminal justice system, from denial of medical care while incarcerated to jury acquittals in murder trials.
- Pamela Palmater. 2016. “Shining Light on the Dark Places: Addressing Police Racism and Sexualized Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls in the National Inquiry.” Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 31(1): i-vii.
- Julie Kayes. 2016. “Reconciliation in the Context of Settler‐Colonial Gender Violence: ‘How Do We Reconcile with an Abuser?’” Canadian Review of Sociology 53(4).
- Josephine L. Savarese. 2017. “Challenging Colonial Norms and Attending to Presencing in Stories of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.” Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 29(1): 157-181.
Prime Minister Trudeau has assured the Canadian public that his government will take action in response to this report. But with a history of abuse and broken promises, it should not be surprising that many Indigenous people are skeptical that anything will really change.
For in-depth reporting on more of these cases, listen to the CBC podcast, Missing & Murdered.