Canada is in a crisis of epic proportions. Both Canadian and Indigenous governments are currently responding to the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus and save lives. However, Canada was already in a nationwide crisis before COVID-19 turned into a global health emergency.
In June 2019, the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls final report found Canada guilty of both historic and ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples generally, and Indigenous women and girls specifically. The National Inquiry found that Canada’s colonial structures which targeted Indigenous women and girls, leads directly to their current rates of violence, death and suicide. Canada’s subsequent failure to take urgent steps to end genocide now puts Indigenous women and girls at higher risk of infection and death in this pandemic. Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller today announced that $305 million has been approved for Indigenous-specific funding, including $215 million for First Nations, $45 million for Inuit, $30 million for Métis and $15 million for urban and Indigenous organizations. No funding was announced to specifically address the gendered impacts of this pandemic on Indigenous women, nor was there any funding allocated to simultaneously address the ongoing genocide crisis. This omission is part of a long-standing series of omissions by Canada to ensure Indigenous women and girls enjoy basic human rights protections from abuse, exploitation, violence and death.
The statistics paint a bleak picture for Indigenous women and girls. Indigenous women have higher rates of suicide attempts overall and those who have had their children taken into foster care have significantly higher suicide attempts and completions. Add to this the fact that despite being only four percent of the Canadian female population, they represent at least 25 percent of female murder victims. They are the number one target of human traffickers and serial killers, as well other segments of society. Indigenous women and girls have been regularly targeted for sexualized violence by police officers and have suffered from physical and sexual abuse in state institutions like residential schools, Indian hospitals and prisons for decades. Indigenous women represent 42 percent of the federal prison population and are the fastest growing prison population overall. Indigenous girls represent 60 percent of youth in corrections, but in provinces like Saskatchewan, those numbers can be as as high as
85 percent. We also know from the statistics, that 91 percent of Indigenous women and girls in prisons have suffered physical or sexual abuse.
During the H1N1 pandemic, Indigenous peoples were only 4 percent of the population but represented 28 percent of hospital admissions and 18 percent of the deaths. Indigenous women are far more likely to be the caretakers of children, elderly parents and extended family members. For those in the work force, they are more likely to be working in helping professions—like health care, social work and education—placing them in direct contact with people and increasing their risks of infection.
Canada’s pandemic response must include a gendered lens that not only develops emergency measures for Indigenous peoples developed in partnership with Indigenous governments, but it must include a plan to address the specific vulnerabilities of Indigenous women and girls, done in partnership with Indigenous women.
Indigenous women and girls need a comprehensive plan that includes:
- A targeted decarceration plan with corresponding post-release supports;
- An infusion of emergency funding for child welfare agencies dealing with Indigenous children in care and the added supports and protections these children and their families will need to stay health and connected;
- Funding and infrastructure to maintain and expand emergency domestic abuse and rape crisis shelters so that Indigenous women and girls will not be trapped by the virus into staying in dangerous situations;
- Targeted housing on and off reserve for Indigenous women and children to keep them off the streets away from the virus;
- Expedited Indian registration for children who are newly entitled to registration under Bill S-3 so that they can access critical uninsured health benefits;
- Safe childcare spots for Indigenous women who work on the frontlines of the pandemic, including in social work, nurses, medical supports, retail, and janitorial, etc;
- Basic income allowance for Indigenous women caring for children, elderly parents and/or extended family members;
- Emergency support payments to allow Indigenous women to buy sufficient food, water and medical supplies during this period of self-isolation; and
- The immediate removal of all man-camps located at or near Indigenous communities to reduce the rates of violence and the risks of infections from mass gatherings of workers.
Every level of government and state agency in Canada has had a hand in creating and maintaining the worst socio-economic conditions for Indigenous peoples, especially Indigenous women and girls. Their continued failures to address ongoing genocide puts Indigenous women and girls at higher risk...