Looking Back & Seeing Clearly Now

As we have begun reading and listening to the recently released Final Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, HRC has been compelled to highlight the historical factors and current realities that have contributed to an over-representation of Indigenous women and girls in those who experience trafficking or sexual exploitation in Canada. For all of us to have a more truthful understanding of why this is and to consider how we might journey towards a Canada where no one is missing, harmed, or exploited, not only must we look back , we also must examine our current context with openness.

LOOKING BACK- HISTORICAL TRUTHS

In the Final Report and within various commentaries or summaries that have been created, it is clearly demonstrated that the colonial history and continued practices of Canada have contributed significantly to the over-representation of Indigenous Peoples in not only those who are trafficked and exploited, but also those who experience violence and inter-generational trauma.

The report and similar studies have emphasized the devastating consequences that have followed Canada’s practices of separating Indigenous Peoples from their traditional territories, restricting mobility and countless expressions of culture, fracturing traditional family and community structures - often involving child-removal strategies, the decimation of traditional food systems, and a disregard for traditional ways of knowing; all practices which were informed and justified by paternalistic policies and dehumanizing legislation from the state and church. For hundreds of years, settlers have been interacting with Indigenous Peoples in Canada with a sense of superiority and entitlement (seen in the various ‘civilizing’ and ‘missionizing efforts like residential schools and the ‘60’sScoop) which continue to have tremendous impacts today for individuals and their communities. HRC highly recommends reading the Final Report and other resources related to MMIWG to hear stories and experiences from individuals and communities, as our broad and brief overview is not fully reflective of the unique experiences of different people, communities, and Nations across time from settler contact to the present day.

SEEING CLEARLY NOW- CURRENT REALITIES

In addition to examining the impact of historical realities, the Final Report has identified a number of contemporary factors that contribute to the over-representation of Indigenous women and girls among those who experience trafficking, sexual exploitation, and gendered violence.

Because cultural practices and ceremonies were banned for generations while intense effort was also directed to disrupt family connections, some Indigenous Peoples feel the weight of racism and prejudice while lacking the cultural support and community to heal and process their trauma. This lack of cultural and community support can contribute to addiction particularly when many social services have been identified as perpetuating harmful stereotypes or lacking intercultural competence. The report and similar publications have detailed many experiences of Indigenous Peoples who were met with disbelief, inaction, victim-blaming, and even violence in encounters with law enforcement or other agents of the judiciary system.

Restrictions placed around traditional food practices, urban food deserts, and astronomical food costs in remote communities continue to create barriers for Indigenous Peoples to exercise self-sufficiency and eat in affordable nutritious ways. It would be challenging to overstate how central the land is for Indigenous Peoples. The implications of dispossession from the land are significant.  Similarly, the impacts of clear cutting and extraction of other natural resources continue to be devastating - with ramifications on people’s minds, bodies, spirits, and hearts- individually and collectively. Many First Nations have been under boil-water advisories for years, resulting in illness and challenges in daily living.

Hundreds of years of government policies aimed at minimizing the economic thriving and independence of Indigenous Peoples, combined with racism and prejudice in communities, school system and workplaces, have contributed to current experiences of poverty and homelessness.

The Urban Native Youth Association found in interviews with youth, that youth responded to the question “What leaves urban Aboriginal youth vulnerable to exploitation?” by naming factors such as “poverty, unstable homes (attributed to inter-generational residential school effects), a lack of education about healthy sexuality, substance abuse, self-esteem challenges (which they attributed to racism, abuse, and unhealthy role-models), and homelessness.” The Final Report on MMIWG also highlighted these factors and many others as contributing to the grievous rates of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

In the Final Report, Jackie Anderson, a Métis woman who works with youth survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg, expressed the following:

“I don’t want to hear about any more Aboriginal women and boys, Two-Spirited, trans people, going missing or being murdered. And their life being taken, their life force being taken when they have so much to give yet. And surely we don’t live in a society that just abandons its most needy, its most vulnerable. We have to continue to fight those battles and I think – I hold out hope. You know, my mother always used to say to me, never give up hope. And I know the struggles that many of you Aboriginal Elders went through in the day, to advance the Aboriginal issue. And I learned that first-hand from my mother. And so, I know change happens; it happens slowly. But we have to, as you say, Chief Commissioner Buller, we have to never [leave] anyone behind, and we must never forget. We must never forget that every life is worth – is of value.” (Page 669 MMIWG Final Report 1a)


The damage and harm caused by settler Canadians towards Indigenous Peoples due to settlers’ sense of superiority, entitlement, mission, and naivety must caution us from continuing such legacy as we engage in the work of ending trafficking and sexual exploitation. We, at HRC, want to remember and honour the resiliency and strength of Indigenous Peoples to continue on and pursue healing, well-being, thriving and sovereignty despite generations of settler efforts to wipe out their Peoples and cultures. May we continue to listen, learn, educate ourselves, and follow the leadership of survivors and Indigenous Peoples themselves, as we together seek a future where no one is missing, harmed, or exploited.