Wake up. The threat to our Indigenous women is Canada’s problem.

What emerges from the stories of 13 Indigenous women who told Maclean’s about the violence they endured is a capacity for resilience and forgiveness


The Maclean’s cover story is now online. Read, and watch, here.

What happened in residential schools was nothing short of “cultural genocide,” said Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as he released the commission’s 94 recommendations in Ottawa this week: “Survivors were stripped of the love of their families. They were stripped of their self-respect and they were stripped of their identity.” Generations on, this practice continues to directly affect Indigenous Canadians, Sinclair said.

That much became clear to Maclean’s in the months that reporter Nancy Macdonald spent researching this week’s cover package: stories of 13 extraordinary Indigenous women. Each has survived horrific violence. Each came within a breath of joining the missing and murdered. Almost all can trace the abuse and sexual violence that have overwhelmed their families to those federally funded schools through whose doors 150,000 Indigenous children passed for more than a century.

More than one of these women told of four generations of women in their families who were raped. Yet what emerges most clearly from their stories is a tremendous capacity for resilience and forgiveness. Make no mistake: While the subject matter may be dark, these remarkable stories are not. They are triumphant, without exception. They are profiles in courage.

Maclean’s cover story:  ‘It could have been me’: 13 remarkable Indigenous women share their stores

“In speaking out, I am saying: No more,” Kim Jonathan, interim chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, told Maclean’s. Jonathan is the country’s most senior female Indigenous leader, and the inspiration for this project. She is speaking publicly, for the first time, of her childhood sexual assault, the abuse she endured as a young girl, and the sexual harassment she continues to face as a national leader.

“Having lived through all that I have, I am choosing to say: I am not going to be next,” Jonathan says. “And I am speaking up for our sisters, the missing and murdered, whose voices have been stolen.”

Now is the time to listen to these voices. The full six-volume report from Sinclair’s commission won’t be released until later this year, but already the report contains a sweeping agenda for change, including: removal of the Criminal Code provision permitting corporal punishment; enhanced teaching of Aboriginal languages in colleges and universities; clear goals and strategies for reducing the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health outcomes; and a public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. If the scars left behind by the residential school system are almost unimaginable, the agenda Sinclair sketched includes a series of concrete steps to achieve measurable outcomes. All that remains is for governments, beginning with the one in Ottawa, to respond.

Related: Poignant responses to the commission’s report

Indigenous women make up just two per cent of the country’s population, but more than one in four female homicide victims in the last five years, a share that continues to rise. The United Nations and Amnesty International have called repeatedly on Ottawa to take real action. Instead, this spring, the federal government chose to release data on the perpetrators of these crimes, to point the finger back at the community. “Obviously, there’s a lack of respect for women and girls on reserves,” Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt told the Ottawa Citizen. The minister is looking in the wrong place. This is overwhelmingly an urban phenomenon: Just seven per cent of missing cases and 13 per cent of murder cases among Indigenous women occur on-reserve.

Let us be clear: This is not an Indigenous problem. This is a Canadian problem. Canada did not suddenly wake up to 1,181 murdered and missing Indigenous women.

But, robbed of context, we tend to blame the missing and murdered themselves. We see them as drug addicts, lost—party, even—to their own victimization. That is why it is so important to hear from survivors; they help us understand how we got here. They humanize the fallen. And they lend their formidable strength to the women who continue to suffer.

“I have been there, too. I walk with you,” said Jonathan, addressing those women directly. Jonathan, who faces an election in four months, knows she could be harmed politically by doing so. She did it anyway.

The courage these women have shown in speaking out, and their resilience, are extraordinary. From the ashes of those horrific schools, somehow, women like this have emerged. Their example should serve as a call for a national soul-searching. That Indigenous women in one of the world’s richest, most developed countries continue to be subjected to sexual violence to a degree not seen outside the most violent corners of the developing world cannot be allowed to endure.

Read these survivors’ remarkable stories on digital newsstands and Next Issue now.


Wake up. The threat to our Indigenous women is Canada’s problem.

  1. Ok……how long do you think it will be before Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair start competing with each other about who can cut the biggest cheque to first nations to gain their vote, er…I mean, to correct the problem.

  2. Too bad Macleans is into knee jerk journalism like CBC. I say this as clearly most abuse of FN women are from FN men and not any fault of mainstream society. Many little details omitted. In fact, women feel so safe on some reserves they have no or so very few women living on them!!!!

    Too much idle time to get angry, drunk, then beat on the family. That is what I saw when I drove cab, you always know when the money came through as you would get lots of calls to go to the liqueur store.

    On one hand they want their freedom, on the other they want us to fix it. But always want us to pay for it as lets face it, they are not a self sustaining productive people any more. Hey, part of the responsibility to have freedom is to earn your keep.

    But then perhaps we have lost our economic liberty to a corrupted Ottawa Orwellian Statism system that screws us all. Fact is Ottawa has stunted Canada’s economy and growth so bad no one productive is having enough kids, just too busy support govmint kids and immigration.

    So stop blaming mainstream society, as Canada is failing from mindless consumptive waste, incompetence and corruption. Want your freedoms, earn it or let them treat you like chickens.

  3. Not Canada’s problem.

    The vast majority of murders and attacks on native women are by native men, second are by native women on native women.

    This was happening long before Europeans arrived, brought civilization and settled North America.

    Got wheel, thank the white man.

  4. Ahhh the KKK has arrived to whine and make excuses.

    And no guys, the abuse isn’t on reserves……most natives don’t live on reserves.

  5. It’s nice that the loathsome and benighted have somewhere to publicly flaunt it.
    Twenty years ago, oppressed white males like james, bob and dave could only sit in their La-z-boys and shake their fists at the teevee.

    • So says the Indian Industry parasitic leech, the likes of which never let the facts get in the way of their twisted world view.

        • So, the parasitic leech cites a CBC story as somehow pertinent while omitting the fact that Carson was the one time chief of staff to one Progressive Conservative named Brian Mulroney. Carson’s very brief time early on advising in a very minor capacity with the new Conservative government is barely noteworthy. A story from 2012, heh.

          • You’re confused, Bob. I cited a story about the convict that Harper appointed as a senior advisor for two years. You know, one the parasitic leeches of the “Indian industry” you were talking about, who spent two years in Harper’s office after which he had no problem meeting with cabinet ministers and getting insider information. Just like any other “barely noteworthy” Canadian, really.

          • Had your leftist temper tantrum now?

            Now what about those native women who are murdered or missing mostly at hand of native men?

            Not Canada’s problem.

            Aboriginals and lefties never take ownership of their own decisions in life, always someone else’s fault.

          • Smart move to go back to simply expressing your loathsome opinions after your disastrous attempt to deal with facts.
            Another nice use of irony in your last sentence, too!

      • And BTW Bob, I should commend you. Making things up out of thin air then complaining about ignoring ‘facts’, all in the same sentence was one of your more brilliant uses of irony. Bravo.

        • The CBC story you cite is full of inaccuracies.

          Of course to people like you the CBC is the final word.

          • Meeting with cabinet ministers and getting inside information? Really?

            Got yer tinfoil hat screwed on extra tight tonightm

          • Could be. Whatever ‘inaccuracies’ you’re referring to, they’re not any of the facts I’ve repeated in my comments above. Or the fact that Harper’s ex-con senior advisor was using his insider connections in the Conservative government to try and make a bundle of money selling water systems to First Nations. You know, like so many “barely noteworthy” Canadians.
            But the only inaccuracies I’m aware of are in your comments. Carson was never Chief of Staff to Mulroney. Though he was apparently Harper’s acting Chief of Staff at some point.

          • Apparently Peter Kent and John Duncan weren’t cabinet ministers and Carson just made a lucky guess when he emailed that Duncan was the new Indian Affairs minister the day before it was announced.
            Oh the humanity, Bob!

          • You need to get a life, Carson is a scum bag, he’s getting what he deserves.

            You, get out of the basement and get some fresh air.

          • Carson had worked for Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney.

            Accompanied Prentice on occasion.

            Definitely in the Red Tory camp.

            Probably gave Prentice advice in the recent Alberta election.

          • Nobody appointed him as a senior advisor for two years, except Harper, who did so after his numerous fraud convictions and disbarment.

          • March 16th, 2011 Harper asked the RCMP to investigate Carson.

          • Yes, after Aboriginal Peoples Television Network had revealed he was using his Conservative connections to get inside information and illegally lobby, Harper asked the RCMP to do what they were obviously going to do anyway.

          • Ever heard of Daniel Gagnier, ran EPIC, this was who Carson was attempting to illegally lobby for?

            Daniel Gagnier was still the Liberal Party of Canada national campaign co chair for Justin Trudeau a4 of last yearm

          • Does that make better Harper`s appointment of an ex-con to one of the highest positions in his office and his subsequent access to privileged information and cabinet ministers?

          • Get off of the drugs Fat Gaper

        • You really need to stop huffing solvents.

  6. Getting back on track 71 percent of inmates in Manitoba are native, the majority of those male.

    If you do the crime you will do the time.

    • Yeah, the US treats blacks the same way. They didn’t send them through residential schools though. We’re more racist than they are.

      • If a person does not break the law then they don’t go to jail.

        You can’t fix stupid.

        • No, you can’t fix stupid.

          We are all the same species, bubba. You are exactly the same as all those natives and blacks out there. There is nothing special about them that makes them violent.

          We didn’t bring ‘civilization’ to North America….we brought guns and cannon….that we got from the Chinese btw.

          Whites didn’t invent the wheel either….brown people in the ME did that.

          Natives had no horses.

          Whites in fact invented very little. Mostly they stole it from other people.

          • There she goes off into left fieldm

          • I always know when you hit the wall. You accuse me of ‘leftism’ and run like hell. LOL

          • Who’s running?

          • When you can’t answer…past name-calling that is….you’re running.

          • I never said anything regarding race, I said person.

            You EO are stuck on stupid.

          • LOL you’ve said no end of stupid things tonight bubba…..time for you to hit the hay.

          • Leftist Mental Disorder can be cured in many cases.

          • Practically all of the inventions that matter to modern man were made by white European males:

            Abbreviated list of inventions that matter to modern man made by those white European guys you so dislike; automobiles, internal combustion engines, jet engine, rockets, air craft, steam engines, trains, printing press, computers, electromagnet waves, solid state devices, computers, quantum physics, calculus, TV’s, radios, penicillin, high rise buildings, atomic energy, dynamite, drilling rigs for oil, rockets, satellites, etc. etc

        • This is to Ed, rockets and Printing – Chinese, wheels – middle east where they had horses, algebra – necessary for advanced physics and computers – Arabic. The concept of zero – from India. Without the mathematics from Indian and Islamic culture our white european males would have been using Roman number systems which simply would not have led to modern technology. No culture can claim to be any more advanced than any other, we develop the technologies that work for our circumstance – hence the desert cultures don’t get into boat building, mountain cultures don’t develop agriculture. As humans – we borrow
          what we need and then claim it as our own. Suggested reading: Guns Germs and Steel by Jarrod (SP?) Diamond.

  7. This story is so terribly racist. What does it matter what race these women are? What about all the other missing women who are not native, don’t they count?

  8. This story is so terribly racist. What does it matter what race these women are? What about all the other missing women who are not native, don’t they count?

  9. This 70% number tossed out by the politicoes is not only irrelevant, it is statistically meaningless. It’s like saying most motor vehicle accidents involve people . Aren’t most white female murder victims killed by white males and some white females? Most rapes and murders are perpetrated by people the victim knows – ergo – from the same social/ethnic/ family group.

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