.Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, I
would first like to thank my honourable colleague and friend
Senator Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, who initiated this inquiry
in the Senate. She dutifully used the honours and privileges
of this chamber to act on this important issue, while the
government continues to turn a deaf ear to the cries for a
national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women
I would like to congratulate the honourable senator on
her continued efforts to bring this issue to the attention
of other senators, the government and the general public.
We share the same passion and urgency on this issue. In
fact, in 2007, or thereabouts, with the support of my friend
Senator Lovelace Nicholas, I wrote a proposal on missing and
murdered Aboriginal women, which we submitted to the
Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
Unfortunately, the committee as a whole was not in favour of
undertaking a study of missing and murdered Aboriginal women
at the time.
Over the past three years, both Senator Lovelace Nicholas
and I have actively asked this government for an action, a
national inquiry, into this issue. Over that time, through
Senators' Statements, questions in Question Period and
speeches in the chamber, I have consistently raised this
issue on over 10 different occasions, often through lengthy
Question Period exchanges with the Leader of the Government
in the Senate.
I have attended conferences on the issue of missing and
murdered Aboriginal women, attended and/or spoken at several
Sisters in Spirit vigils in Saskatoon and Ottawa. In 2005, I
was one of the founding members of the Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik,
which is Cree for "women walking together." This is a
grassroots group with people from many walks of life and a
variety of community organizations whose primary aim is to
support the families of missing and murdered Aboriginal
women by bringing attention and memory to the issue.
I asked two of the key grassroots members what their main
concern was. Both of them told me that there was still not
enough attention given to the family members of missing and
murdered Aboriginal women; that family members should have
more input into developing the strategy for a national
inquiry; and that there should be more opportunities for all
families to tell their unique stories through speaking,
writing or videotaping.
Honourable senators, I have also used my voice to speak
about the need for a public inquiry outside of the Senate at
Sisters in Spirit gatherings and other events.
Missing and murdered Aboriginal women is an issue that I
and the Liberal official opposition in the Senate have
consistently pushed this government on.
I have given many speeches and was even asked to write a
summary of my reflections and insight after attending a
Missing Indigenous Women conference held in August 2008 at
Luther College in Regina. I would have liked to read my
chapter into the record, but with such short notice, I have
not had time to get permission from the publisher of the
book, Torn From Our Midst: Voices of Grief, Healing and
Action from the Missing Indigenous Women Conference, 2008.
I also provided personal sponsorship to offset expenses for
members of the families of missing women to attend this
These days, I no longer need a prepared text to give a
speech at the Sisters in Spirit vigils. I speak from what I
have learned in the last seven and a half years. More
important, I speak from the heart, as my elders have taught
me. I will, however, read into the record a prepared speech
that I gave at a Sisters in Spirit vigil in 2008 in
Saskatoon. Here it goes:
Good morning to you all, and thank you for being with us
here today. I thank Elder Corrine Eyahpaise and Maria
Linklater. Because of their prayers, drumming and singing,
we will have a successful event. My goal today is to give
you some background information about this vigil and the
startling statistics concerning missing Aboriginal women.
The Sisters in Spirit vigils have been held annually
across Canada since 2006 to remember and honour the
Aboriginal women who have gone missing or who have been
murdered. This year
Remember, honourable senators, this was in 2008.
37 communities across Canada are holding vigils. The
Native Women's Association of Canada chose to use the full
moon, depicted in West Coast style, as a symbol for these
vigils. Grandmother Moon represents the sacredness and power
of women. The artist chose blue for the moon, and to me that
represents water. Water is one of the four elements, and our
bodies are comprised mostly of water. The moon's
gravitational pull on water creates the tides, and the moon
pulls on the water in our bodies as well. When women are
menstruating, we are said to be on our Moon-time. It is a
time of great spiritual power and sacredness, not at all a
time of shame or dirtiness, as taught in mainstream culture.
Through their research work, NWAC has confirmed that more
than 500 Aboriginal women have gone missing or have been
murdered across Canada in the last 30 years. About half of
these Aboriginal women were under the age of 25. One third
are still listed as missing, and two thirds have been
murdered. In other words, about 170 Aboriginal women are
missing and about 340 have been murdered. Saskatchewan,
Manitoba, and B.C. have the highest numbers of missing or
murdered Aboriginal women.
According to the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of
Police website, there are 28 missing women in Saskatchewan,
and 16, or nearly 60 per cent, of these are Aboriginal
women. Yet only about 14 per cent of the provincial
population currently is Aboriginal. These numbers clearly
demonstrate that being Aboriginal puts a woman at a much
greater risk of being abducted and "made" missing.
In 2004, Amnesty International released the Stolen
Sisters report, which showed that Indigenous women in Canada
face gender- and race-based discrimination, and that this is
further compounded by discrimination due to poverty, ill
health or involvement in the sex trade. The Stolen Sisters
report stated that Aboriginal women (aged 25 to 44) are five
times more likely to die of violence.
In 2005, the Native Women's Association of Canada
launched the Sisters in Spirit initiative, the main
objective of which was to address violence directed against
Aboriginal women. The Sisters in Spirit initiative is
committed to increase public awareness across Canada about
the impact of racialized, sexualized violence against
Aboriginal women which leads to their disappearance or
The statistics which I mentioned earlier clearly show
that Aboriginal women are much more at risk for being made
missing or murdered, but sadly, societal indifference helps
perpetuate this. In 1996, Warren Goulding, a journalist,
I don't get the sense the general public cares much about
missing or murdered Aboriginal women. It's all part of this
indifference to the lives of Aboriginal people. They don't
seem to matter as much as white people.
Indifference by mainstream society may be part of the
problem, but in my opinion there is a deeper and more
disturbing problem. The problem is that there are some men
who act out their disdain and disgust towards Aboriginal
women. These men by virtue of their maleness and perceived
superiority feel entitled to violate and murder Aboriginal
Three years ago, Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik, a community
group, arose from concerns that Aboriginal women in
Saskatchewan were continuing to be disappeared and were
still being murdered at a greater rate than other women.
Individuals and people from different organizations in
Saskatoon joined together to bring awareness to this issue
and to provide local support to the families of missing
Aboriginal women. Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik is a co-organizer
of today's event.
Unfortunately, it is a shameful fact that the abduction
and murder of Aboriginal or Indigenous women is a global
phenomenon. In Mexico, for example, since the early 1990s,
thousands of women have disappeared and hundreds have been
killed in the city of Juarez. In both Mexican and Canadian
society, our colonial legacy has persisted and resulted in a
society where systemic sexualized and racialized violence is
In August, I attended The Missing Indigenous Women
Conference at the University of Regina. The mothers of
missing Indigenous women from Mexico told us about their
struggles and they shared with us the ways in which they
remembered and honoured women who had been disappeared or
murdered. A black cross on a pink background was used to
represent the spirits of the missing and murdered Indigenous
At the conference in Regina, pink cloth banners painted
with a black cross were tied around the trees between Luther
College and the Conexus Arts Centre, and these pink banners
guided us on a protest walk, just as we were guided by the
pink banners on our walk this morning. These banners
reminded me of the prayer cloths that we tie around trees,
and I took some of them from the Regina conference to a
sweat lodge to be smudged and blessed, and will present them
to our speakers to help them find the wisdom, the strength
and the courage to take the necessary steps to put a stop to
violence against all women.
The spirits of our missing sisters, as represented by
Grandmother Moon and the pink banners, give us the guidance
and the strength to work to end the violence directed
against women, and Aboriginal women in particular.
That is the end of my 2008 speech.
Honourable senators, I may not have the written a song
about missing and murdered Aboriginal women, but I have sung
the "Strong Woman" song many times at various marches to
protest the violence directed against Aboriginal women. As
recently as October 4 of this year, I sang this song along
with other Aboriginal women at the Sisters in Spirit vigil
in Saskatoon. It is a song that honours the strength and
resilience of Aboriginal women and is said to have
originated in the prison for women in Kingston by Aboriginal
women who sang to the Grandmother Spirits to keep them safe
during a prison riot. They were not harmed. If we had a drum
here and other singers, we could sing the "Strong Woman"
song for you.
Honourable senators, in 2005 the Native Women's
Association of Canada initiated the Sisters in Spirit
project and the Grandmother Moon logo. In the first phase of
this project, Sisters in Spirit conducted research and
gathered statistical information on violence against
Aboriginal women through over 200 variables and indicators.
This sophisticated database led to the breakthrough of the
first glimpse of the problem over 582 missing and murdered
Aboriginal women throughout Canada. This information was
collected over five years, with initial funding from the
then-Liberal government at $5 million over that five-year
Honourable senators, I cannot stress enough the
importance of this groundbreaking research by Sisters in
Spirit and the Native Women's Association of Canada. For the
first time, we were able to statistically collect, track and
investigate cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women
and girls. With this research, the first cracks of light
were coming to the darkest corners of our Aboriginal
communities. This research then allowed the Sisters in
Spirit team to investigate the root causes of violence
against Aboriginal women and provide unique expertise in the
development of tools to help stem the violence. This
research was the reason that so many Canadians called for a
Sadly, this government in 2010 eliminated the funding for
the Sisters in Spirit initiative. Instead of rewarding this
outstanding group of researchers and front-line workers to
continue to expand their database, this government made sure
that none of the $10 million that was promised in Budget
2010 to address this disturbingly high number of missing and
murdered Aboriginal women went to Sisters in Spirit.
Additionally, this government imposed measures on the NWAC-Sisters
in Spirit initiative if they sought additional funding in a
new agreement. These conditions were, first, Sisters in
Spirit must promise to quit working on the internationally
acclaimed database; second, they had to stop using
government funds for research and policy; and third, if they
were to use federal funding they had to change the name to
Evidence and Action and discard the Grandmother Moon logo
associated with Sisters in Spirit.
When asked why these changes were necessary for any new
proposal for funding, the then Parliamentary Secretary for
Indian Affairs, Shelly Glover, said, "That project was
finished. Now we are working with them to pursue other
Honourable senators, never did NWAC or Sisters in Spirit
insist that their research and database project was
complete. It really was just the starting point.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I
regret to inform the honourable senator that her 15-minute
speaking time has expired. Are you prepared to ask the
chamber for more time?
Senator Dyck: Could I have a few more minutes,
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is
leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Dyck: Sisters in Spirit and its logo, a
West Coast pictogram of Grandmother Moon and I have one
pinned to my bag the symbol of life and healing for
Aboriginal women, honoured the lives and stories of these
lost women. The decision of the federal government to ask
NWAC not to use the Sisters in Spirit name and logo was such
a bad decision. It was disrespectful of the cultural
importance of Grandmother Moon to all Aboriginal women.
Despite the federal ban, though, Aboriginal women and men
still rally around the Sisters in Spirit vigils and the
Grandmother Moon logo.
Initially, there was hope that the new $10-million
investment by the federal government meant that they were
taking the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women
seriously. There was hope that that would be the start of an
investment into a national inquiry into missing and murdered
Aboriginal women and girls. Unfortunately, we would yet
again be disappointed by the lack of leadership of this
government. Instead of $10 million for Sisters in Spirit,
instead of $10 million for a national inquiry, the funding
went to a new missing persons unit for the RCMP. This unit
will not be running until early next year and will not have
a dedicated section for Aboriginal women.
Honourable senators, three years will have passed since
this government made a terrible funding cut. Three years
will have passed before this missing persons unit will even
be up and running. Additionally, there is no certainty that
missing and murdered Aboriginal women will even be a focus
of this new unit: wrong decision after wrong decision, more
and more disappointments.
We are left with the present situation. The Native
Women's Association of Canada continues to try to add to
their database through other means of funding. Their list
now reaches over 600 missing or murdered Aboriginal women.
We still do not have any other credible alternative avenue
where this research could be done or a similar up-to-date
database. We have now lost three years: three years without
a sufficient mechanism to track new cases of missing and
murdered Aboriginal women, to update old files, to help
families move on by providing them with closure and adequate
I hope the government will take heed of this inquiry here
in the Senate. I encourage senators from both sides to
engage in this inquiry and to take it back to their
provinces and communities. Hear the stories of these
Aboriginal women and their families, and perhaps then the
wheels of justice will finally gain the momentum required to
push this government to initiate a national inquiry. I am
encouraged that the Honourable Senator Brazeau has recently
come onside with the need for a national inquiry. I hope he
can convince his Conservative colleagues to also come onside
and make a national inquiry a reality.
As I noted recently in Question Period, though three
federal ministers were invited to attend the National
Aboriginal Women's Summit in Winnipeg just a few weeks ago,
none showed up. This was disappointing, to say the least. It
is time for Ministers Ambrose, Duncan and Nicholson to step
up and show Canadians that they are concerned, that they
really do care about this issue, by taking action and
initiating a national inquiry and a national action plan. It
is time to take this action requested by both the Native
Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First
Amnesty International has just launched a "Write for
Rights Canada: No More Stolen Sisters" initiative to put
pressure on the Prime Minister to collaborate with
indigenous women's organizations to develop and adopt a
comprehensive coordinated national action plan to stop
violence against women, including addressing both the social
and the economic inequalities that lead to increased risk
for indigenous women. It is time for action.
Honourable senators, let me conclude with a Cherokee
saying: A nation is not defeated until the hearts of its
women are on the ground; then it is defeated no matter how
strong its weapons or how brave its warriors.
I will repeat that: A nation is not defeated until the
hearts of its women are on the ground; then it is defeated
no matter how strong its weapons or how brave its warriors.
How many more of our women's hearts have to hit the
ground before this federal government takes action?