Good morning, and thank you, Madam Chairman.
I'm very pleased to have been invited to have this opportunity to meet with you. It's an honour to be sitting here with the aboriginal women who are representing their communities.
I want to address specifically the violence in urban areas, and I want to do so based on three of my experiences, which I think bring me as a qualified speaker.
First, I have been a university professor now for some 30 years, working exclusively on issues dealing with aboriginal women across Canada. I'm both an anthropologist and a professor of women's studies currently at the University of Lethbridge.
Second, for a long time I have been a member of aboriginal communities as an anthropologist and through extended kinship networks. I seasonally live on the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia and have lost people who are very dear to me, and I have suffered the pain of seeing young children violated by members of urban communities because they know these children are vulnerable and they can count on people not caring.
Third, I believe I can speak to this issue with a great deal of knowledge because I have just recently completed studies in urban areas specifically dealing with the reception of first nations women as they leave reserves and move into urban areas. Over the past 10 years, I have witnessed this transition and the responses of urban communities when aboriginal women, and most specifically first nations women from reserves, move into their neighbourhood.
When I look at the violence, I am concerned about the violence that is not perpetrated within the family. You heard very eloquently this morning about family violence. I'm concerned and wish to speak to you today about the violence that aboriginal women and young girls experience at the hands of outsiders to their community. The downtown east side, where I resided once, is perhaps the most infamous example of what happens to the most vulnerable when they move to the cities.
There are a number of reasons why urban aboriginal women are so vulnerable. We have to remember that 72% of aboriginal women are urban residents. In fact, the urban areas have higher rates of violence against women than in other communities.
The most compelling reasons that I think we need to deal with in order to understand the violence in urban areas are, first of all, prevailing attitudes, failure of authorities, and the wide public indifference to aboriginal women. We need to do nothing more than look in this room at the empty space for the media to realize that that indifference is writ large.
It's absence, total absence of media, and I know that's not been the only experience you've had where the media have not paid attention. And it's impoverishment.
To begin with the issues of public authorities, we heard this morning about the very difficult and painful job of policing where there are high levels of interpersonal violence, and we know that this can, in fact, desensitize, as was expressed by the representative of the Edmonton police. But that desensitization is only part of the problem. In research on all levels of official interaction with communities--whether it's health, education, the correctional system, the courts, etc.--we find that aboriginal women are discredited. Our research shows over and over again that they are not seen as valued citizens. This attitude is picked up and expressed over and over again in media.
When women go missing on Highway 16, if it's a young, blonde woman...as was the case in my home community, where one of my neighbours lost a child just recently, and that child's picture was on the first or second page in every paper in the nation for days. At the same time, one of my extended family members was found dead, and the only comment in the paper was that she was found dead where prostitutes were known to be. Well, thank you just the same, but it's also where I walk my dog and play with my granddaughter and have other family activities. The fact that it was a public park was never mentioned. Her name was not mentioned--a grievous problem with media, public education, and the authorities that so identified her. Her name has not been in the papers again. Interestingly enough, she was related to a young child who was savagely beaten by a former judge of Prince George who'd had a reign of terror over aboriginal women and their girls for years before he was brought to justice.
Finally, I want to talk about impoverishment. I want to talk about impoverishment on three levels. First, and most significantly, is the impoverishment of Canada consequent upon the colonialism, the biases, the outrageous discrimination. There's an impoverishment of imagination. There's an impoverishment of understanding citizenship. There's an impoverishment of recognizing what aboriginal women have contributed and can continue to contribute to our country. And there's an impoverishment of empathy for the vulnerable.
There is a money impoverishment that makes their transitions to cities so difficult, when it is so necessary. I'll give you one example. In the city in which I'm doing research about a transition home, women attempted to set up a transition home to bring women in to upper education programs and children's education programs from a nearby reserve. They have literally been harassed and run out of the community, and the mayor of that city recently said, “We must take back our communities and parks.” It's attitude. We need education programs across the nation, very broadly, and we need government action that takes responsibility for directing the citizens at large.