Madam Speaker, it is my honour to rise today in support of Bill S-219, an act respecting a national ribbon skirt day.
I want to echo messages shared by NDP colleagues, including the MP for Nunavut, who said in the House that this is an important opportunity to recognize indigenous cultures and the prominence of indigenous women.
I also want to make clear that while we in the NDP support this bill, we are also keen to put forward amendments to further improve it. That is something I will get to in a few moments.
It is important to recognize that ribbon skirts are a symbol of strength, pride and hope. They symbolize a direct connection to Mother Earth and her sacred medicines. Ribbon skirts have become a symbol not just of indigenous women's empowerment but also of the struggle for justice for missing and murdered indigenous women.
I think of the many young women, young indigenous women, first nations and Métis, here across our region in Manitoba who make their own ribbon skirts, who gift ribbon skirts, who sell ribbon skirts and who wear them to ceremonies and to powwows. They wear them as a symbol of pride and, I would say, resilience, but also of reclaiming culture and traditions that were forcibly taken away by colonizers. It is important to recognize the empowering elements of the ribbon skirt symbol and find ways to make sure that it is a formal part of our national narrative.
We also need to be clear that if we are going to talk about reconciliation, yes, we need to be looking at symbols but we also need to go much further than that. As we talk about the importance of female empowerment and indigenous female empowerment, we must also act in concrete ways to support indigenous women across Canada.
I have the honour of representing 41 first nations. I have the honour of working with indigenous women, leaders, activists, advocates, elders, young people and indigenous women who hold up their communities, who hold up a region and who, day in and day out, in the face of immense challenges, do everything they can to keep their communities moving forward.
In order for them to continue to do that work and to do that work effectively to meet the needs in their communities, there is no question that we need a federal government that is willing to step up and support that work. Unfortunately, we do not have that in the current Liberal government.
Let us take one of the biggest crises that indigenous women, indigenous communities and, I would say, Canada faces, that of missing and murdered indigenous women, which truly is a national tragedy.
There is not one community, first nations, Métis or urban, here in our region that has not been devastated by the loss of an indigenous woman or girl. As others have said, it is unconscionable that, in a country as wealthy as Canada, we see on a regular basis notices on social media and in our communities of yet another indigenous woman or girl who is missing or who has been taken.
We know that somewhere between 1,600 and 4,000 indigenous women and girls have been lost in this country in the last 20 years. We also know that this did not just happen. The historic inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women uncovered many of the contributing factors. Thankfully, it also made very clear what we need to be doing to put an end to the tragedy that is missing and murdered indigenous women through their 231 calls to justice.
I want to speak to some of those key areas that we need to be pursuing if we are going to talk about ending violence against indigenous women and empowering indigenous women.
We need to put an end to the housing crisis that exists in first nations and urban centres, which indigenous women face disproportionately. On reserve here in our region, it takes the form of third world housing conditions. I have spoken in the House about women and their families that live in remote first nations here in northern Manitoba, in homes held together, in a way, by tarps in the middle of winter.
I have talked about homes that are overcrowded and mould-infested, homes that are making people sick, and homes that have devastating mental, physical and emotional impacts. We know those impacts are disproportionately felt by women. We also know that housing insecurity can contribute greatly to gender-based violence and can prevent women from leaving abusive relationships, even though they would like to. We need to get serious about dealing with the housing crisis that exists in first nations and indigenous communities across the country, and the Liberal government is not doing that.
We also need to be very clear about the fact that indigenous women face disproportionate levels of poverty. I acknowledge the important work of my colleague, the member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, who has called for a basic annual income, not only for indigenous women, of course, but for Canadians who are on the margins. However, we know that many indigenous women are disproportionately facing poverty in our communities.
There are many ways that we can empower indigenous women and indigenous communities economically, but right now we are not taking that seriously. I would say the investments that are necessary to create jobs and opportunities in indigenous communities across our region are simply not being taken advantage of, despite the fact that many first nations are very clear about the ideas they would like to bring forward to create jobs and opportunities in their communities.
There are also other areas where the federal government is woefully inadequate in terms of action, such as addressing addictions and the need for treatment and healing supports for indigenous women in indigenous communities. Some time ago, I was in touch with the minister about yet another first nation in the region, God's Lake Narrows, which issued a state of emergency calling for federal action to deal with the addictions crisis and the suicide crisis in its community.
A few weeks before that, I spoke out on behalf of Red Sucker Lake First Nation, which also called a state of emergency because of the suicide crisis it is facing. Red Sucker Lake is a first nation that for some time now, along with other first nations in the Island Lake region, has been calling for a treatment centre that the federal government, while it acknowledged it, has done nothing to make happen.
Red Sucker Lake is also part of the Island Lake region, a region of over 13,000 people, a remote region accessible only by plane throughout the year, that also does not have a hospital, forcing people to go out for relatively basic medical care. Again, we know that reality has a disproportionate impact on women.
If we are speaking about infrastructure, a clear way to empower indigenous women is to make sure that they have access to the services and the kind of infrastructure that many take for granted outside of indigenous communities: proper schools, post-secondary opportunities closer to home, proper hospitals and health centres that can provide the services that are required.
Looking beyond that, I would say tracking with the reality, many first nations are disproportionately now impacted by climate change, further isolating first nations, rendering crisis situations more and more serious. I have worked with first nations that have been rocked by wildfires and flooding, clear results of the climate emergency that we are facing. These are communities that have little capacity, if any, to deal with the climate crisis. As research has pointed out, this has a disproportionate impact on indigenous women as well.
It is clear that the federal government needs to move beyond symbols and commit to action when it comes to reconciliation and empowering indigenous women.
I briefly want to share that we are keen to make amendments indicating that indigenous women not be put in a generalized category and recognizing that first nations, Métis and Inuit women have different ways of affirming each other's strength. Also very importantly, this bill needs to include indigenous persons whose identities are outside the gender binary and who choose to symbolize the importance of wearing ribbon skirts. Inclusion and creating a safe space for gender discussions for indigenous peoples must be a priority, and I point to the work of Dr. Alex Wilson, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, who has devoted her career to understanding two-spirit identity.
There is much work to be done to recognize the strength of indigenous women, but certainly concrete action is necessary to truly respect indigenous women and empower them as they are pursuing—