KAHNAWAKE, Que. — As the federal government prepares to launch a national inquiry into murdered and missing native women, a Quebec group has come out with a grim report on violence against women in the province’s First Nations communities.
The authors of the document, published Monday by Quebec Native Women Inc., hope its release will spur the province to act.
The report focuses on cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in the province and comprises 18 months of testimonials from people in various indigenous communities.
For Cheryl McDonald, a Mohawk from Akwesasne and Kanesatake whose sister went missing in 1988 and was later found dead, the subject matter is all too real.
There are still unanswered questions and unresolved peace issues 27 years later, but also renewed hope.
“I can tell you that many of us are born into violence, some carried in violence inside their mother’s womb and some are raised in violence,” McDonald told a news conference in Kahnawake, just south of Montreal.
“This is at the heart of why our women are missing — we no longer know who we are in this world in 2015 — although many of us are returning to that life, those values, those traditions and those beliefs.”
The release of the report comes less than a week after the federal government announced the first phase of a long-sought national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
The report suggested the existence of a code of silence within aboriginal communities, where fear and shame prevent many women from seeking help. It also described profiling of and discrimination against aboriginals by police as well as behaviour by authorities that discourages reporting of violence.
The group’s president, Viviane Michel, said recommendations will be published in January.
Ghislain Picard, chief of the Quebec Assembly of First Nations, recognizes that men have a role to play in curbing the climate of violence.
“Given that the majority of aboriginal leaders are men, I think this awareness is necessary,” Picard said.
He said the topic was broached in meetings between native leaders following a scandal where allegations of abuse by provincial police officers against aboriginal women in Val-d’Or led to suspensions and an investigation.
Picard said the upcoming federal inquiry should have an exclusive section on Quebec, adding he hopes Monday’s report and that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada being unveiled Tuesday will bring the issues to the forefront.
The RCMP said there were at least 46 homicides involving native women in Quebec between 1980 and 2012.
The report suggests violence-prevention strategies should be created and also calls for better support and intervention in matters of violence.
Michel said the government views the kind of violence faced by native women differently from those who live it.
“For them (the government), it’s conjugal violence and (for us), we’re talking about institutional violence,” she said.
Native Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley and Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee also attended Monday’s event.
Vallee said she accepts the report with humility, noting that the realities documented are often cast aside.
She didn’t commit to any particular measures, but said an ongoing review of policies on sexual assault and domestic violence will have input from native women.