In part 3 of the documentary “Living Democracy from the Ground Up,” Thomas R. Berger, the commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, spent 2.5 years visiting with Indigenous communities who would be most impacted if the pipeline was built. He described it as an opportunity for the public to learn more about Aboriginal people living in Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories of Turtle Island (colonially known as Canada and the United States). His conclusion was that a pipeline should never be built in this arctic tundra.
Compare this to the Murdered and Missing Women’s Inquiry, which was an attempt to shed light on the failures of the investigations into the killings of Aboriginal women from the Downtown Eastside. In practice, Wally Oppal was hired as the commissioner, despite a possible conflict of interest with him being the Attorney General while the investigations were ongoing.
Not only did the inquiry fail to explore police corruption, links to organized crime and systemic racism, sexism and classism, I would argue that it was another form of violence against the women and communities most impacted. This violence or oppression silenced and excluded them from the process. For example, the provincial government refused to fund legal representation for advocacy groups such as the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, WISH, PACE, the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC, Pivot and the Women’s Memorial March Committee. In their recent report “Blueprint for an Inquiry: Learning from the Failures of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry,” Pivot, West Coast Leaf and the BC Civil Liberties Association pointed to the failure of the inquiry to give voice to the most vulnerable people and communities impacted by violence against women: Indigenous women, sex workers, and people living in the Downtown Eastside.
It is no wonder that many organizations refused to participate in the inquiry, which has been called a “sham.” Violence against Aboriginal women is not only a problem in British Columbia. At least six hundred Indigenous women have been killed or have gone missing across Canada. At the request of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination has agreed to examine the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.
I think it is important to make the links between the failures of the inquiry and the violence that the current government is committing against Indigenous people by trying to take away their treaty rights through Bill C-45. These forms of oppression and ongoing colonization are also evident in the displacement of Aboriginal peoples being devastated by the tar sands. Some of the individuals on the front lines of defending the land are Aboriginal women. I was fortunate to be able to attend “She Speaks,” a free event at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Vancouver, where Indigenous women spoke about the effects of the tar sands and their resistance against it. It was very emotional and inspiring to listen to these very personal stories, which had such a collective impact. In a video called “Stories from the Road: Activist Harsha Walia makes connections between displaced women and oil sands,” Harsha Walia speaks about how some Aboriginal women are being displaced by the tar sands and then ending up homeless and vulnerable in the Downtown Eastside.
I believe that people are making the connections between violence against women, protecting the environment and standing in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. In these 16 days of action, my hope is that you are asking yourself, “What can I do to act in solidarity with First Nations women and make a difference?”
By Vilayvanh Sengsouvanh