Tanisi. Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
The information that I'm providing and my statement are based on my own research, on research that others have conducted, on my observations of the experiences of friends, family, and community members, and on my own experiences as a two-spirit-identified Cree woman.
I'm from the Opaskwayak Cree nation, and that's where I'm talking to you from today. We're a community of about 5,700 people 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Of our membership, approximately one-third do not live on reserve but mostly in cities across Canada, but also elsewhere in the world.
I began by telling you where I'm from because it is important to note that Cree people have lived in this area for a long time. In fact, like all other indigenous communities in North America, we have lived continuously on our land longer than any other people on the planet, with the exception maybe of indigenous Australians. With that long connection to the land, we have an intimate and important understanding of and connection to the land that extends back tens of thousands of years.
For all those thousands of years, our community has not only survived, but thrived. Every person had importance within the community and familial life. Within a very, very short period of time, the last 200 years or so, all that changed. Of course, what I'm referring to is the process of colonization, or what others call the “founding” of Canada.
There are two stories, the story that I and other indigenous women know and the story that is presented to Canadians, or the story of Canada. We were asked to make a statement about poverty and the impacts on indigenous women. However, we cannot talk about poverty without acknowledging that poverty is a symptom or a result of an intersection of a host of factors such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other forms of systemic oppression.
The lives of indigenous women have been regulated by policy since the founding of Canada. Every aspect of our lives has been regulated, such as what we eat, whom we are allowed to marry, where we live, what we are allowed to own, what we wear, and even who gets to use the term “Indian”, who gets to call themselves Indian. We know the effect of this regulation and of the intersections of multiple forms of oppression. The effect is evident in the many statistics that most of you already know or probably have some familiarity with, just like I know, when I take a taxi in Winnipeg, I will most likely have to pay up front, just like I continually have to worry about the safety of my nieces.
The effect of colonization is asymmetrical. Certain bodies are impacted in ways that others aren't, and those are the bodies of indigenous women, two-spirit, and trans indigenous people. The effect is institutionalized, and the effect has meant a disconnection from meaningful relationships, including to the land and water, which leads to destruction of land and water, to violence, the effect of the normalization of violence, and the internalization of violence.
It's meant that language has been lost or changed. It's meant that binary gender roles have been entrenched. It's meant that spirituality has now become a religion and institutionalized by schools, prisons, CFS, and the health care system. It's meant that certain world views have been privileged while others have been dismissed, in particular, the world views of indigenous women. This is the reality that we live with.
As all of you know, there are over 1,200 missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada. Seven out of 10 aboriginal girls will experience sexual abuse or violence in their lives. Aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence. For indigenous queer youth, the suicide rates are unimaginable—10 times higher than any other group. For indigenous trans-identified youth, suicide rates are around 56%, which means that if you know any indigenous trans-identified youths, the chances are that they will have either thought about suicide or attempted suicide. We see trans-identified indigenous youth leaving school as early as the third grade. Think about that. Why would a third grader not feel safe in school?
We have states of emergency around suicide. Homelessness rates are increasing. These are all the effects of colonization. These are the facts of life for indigenous women in Canada. Whether we are Cree, Inuit, Anishinabe, Métis, Coast Salish, or from whatever nation, the effect is the same across the country. But there is nothing inherently wrong with indigenous women. If we just looked at the statistics, if we just looked at the way Canada presents indigenous women, people would think there is something inherently wrong with us, and it's quite amazing that we are still here today despite the intersection of all of these multiple forms of oppression.
I would say that there is nothing inherently wrong with indigenous women. There is something inherently wrong with Canada.
In conclusion, I urge you, as representatives of Canada, to seriously consider how poverty fits into the bigger picture of the story of Canada.