​June is the month we celebrate sunshine, strawberries, and Indigenous history. Culminating on June 21st with National Indigenous Peoples Day, Indigenous peoples and settlers come together to celebrate the heritage, rich cultures and innumerable achievements of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.

The Women’s Centre of Halton (WCH) would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that the land on which the centre sits and on which Halton residents live, work and play is the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee and Anishnaabeg.

There is a large, mostly unacknowledged Indigenous population living in Halton. And, while this is a month of pow wows and celebrations it’s also a time to reflect on the lives of Indigenous women living within the region.

Although Indigenous peoples make up about 4 per cent of Canada’s population, Indigenous women are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than non-Aboriginal women.

 

We know that every six days, a Canadian woman is killed by a current or former intimate partner, yet Indigenous women experience femicide rates six to seven times greater than non-Indigenous women.

 

It’s also startling to learn that Indigenous women are almost three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Indigenous women.

 

The RCMP estimates a total of 1,181 Indigenous women went missing or were murdered between 1980 and 2012. Grassroots organizations like the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Minister of the Status of Women believe the number is closer to 4,000.

But, neither number even begins to reflect the true sum of Indigenous women and girls who have been the victims of large scale femicide over the past 150 plus years.

The Indian Act, passed in 1876, is a paternalistic government policy originally put in place to assimilate First Nations peoples through enfranchisement. Metis and Inuit peoples are exempt from the Indian Act.

Enfranchisement is the legal process for terminating a person’s Indian status in order to impose full Canadian citizenship upon them. Most often, this citizenship was executed without consent.

This act gave government agents the power to enforce government policy that controlled virtually every aspect of the lives of registered First Nations peoples and the reserves they were forced to live on.

These powers included registering births and marriages; establishing who was eligible for status; and enforcing punishments when rules were disobeyed.

Dependence of First Nations women on First Nations men began in 1851 when the federal government established that in order to be considered First Nations you had to be male, be the child of a male, or be married to a male.

First Nations women became non-entities and had their independence stolen because status was now dependent on having a prescribed relationship with a First Nations male. This policy gave birth to the terms Status and Non-Status.

If a First Nations woman loses her status, then she’s denied treaty benefits; health benefits; the right to live on reserve, to inherit family property, and to be buried on reserve with her ancestors.

When a First Nations woman marries a First Nations man from another band she forfeits her right to remain in her band and is forced to join her husband’s band. This ended the tradition of maternal lineage.

Division of property and inheritance under the Indian Act meant First Nations women couldn’t own land or marital property unless widowed. But, even widows were prohibited from inheriting their husband’s personal property unless deemed of good moral character by the local government agent.

To this day, First Nations men retain exclusive rights to property even when relationships end. This policy makes it so much more difficult for First Nations women to leave abusive relationships.

From 1870 until 1996, Indigenous children were routinely taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools. Generally, children lived in these institutions from age five to 18.

Over 150,000 stolen Indigenous children were exposed to physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuses. The cruelty included isolation from family and siblings, as well as torture.

Deprived of their parents’ love, these children were robbed of the opportunity to learn how to become loving partners and parents. Denied interaction with their brothers and sisters, they were robbed of a lifetime of familial love and support. The injurious effects of this assimilation policy are still very much with us today in the form of inter-generational trauma.

Beginning in the 1960’s and continuing until the late 1980’s, child protection services were given the authority to “scoop up” Indigenous children to place them in non-Indigenous foster homes. This policy also allowed non-Indigenous families to adopt these children. The Sixties Scoop that overlapped with the residential school system brought many Indigenous children to Halton.

The Truth and Reconciliation’s 94 Calls to Action are meant to affect real changes in our society. They list specific actions that need to take place in order to bring settler and Indigenous nations closer to reconciliation.

The WCH would like to extend an open invitation to Indigenous women living in Halton to drop by the centre. While we do not offer culturally appropriate services or programming, our door is always open and the kettle is always on because we are committed to working towards truth and reconciliaction – the actions that will bring about true equity between settler and Indigenous nations.

Miigwech.