Violence against Indigenous Women

As of March 31, 2009, there are 520 known cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) believes there are many more cases that have not yet been documented, especially for earlier decades. Of the known cases that have been documented:

  • 24% are cases of missing women and girls.
  • 67% are cases of murder (defined as homicide or negligence causing death).
  • The majority of cases occurred in the western provinces of Canada.
  • 26% of the incidents occurred in British Columbia, 17% occurred in Alberta, 14% in Manitoba, and 12% in Saskatchewan.
  • 52% of the cases involve women and girls under the age of 30 years.
  • 43% of the cases of missing women and girls have occurred during or since 2000.
  • 55% of the cases of murder and 43% of disappearances occurred during or since 2000.

Although Aboriginal women represent only 3% of the Canadian population, they are over represented as victims of racialized, sexualized violence, and too often targeted because of their gender and their Aboriginal identity.

(Adapted from Native Women Association of Canada’s backgrounder Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women)

Why is this happening?

Widespread racism and poverty continue to expose Indigenous women to a heightened risk of violence while denying them adequate protection by police and government services. Deep inequalities in living conditions and access to government services have pushed many Indigenous women into situations, where there is a greatly heightened risk of violence. The same inequalities have also denied many Indigenous women access to the services and support, such as emergency shelters, needed to escape violence.

Until 1985 marrying a non-Aboriginal person resulted in Aboriginal women losing their status as “Indian,” as well as their right to live on reserve and their ability to access other programs and services. Thousands of women were forced off reserves and suffered cultural isolation. 

The legacy of the residential school system, moreover, resulted in a cycle of trauma and abuse that has impacted multiple generations of Aboriginal women and men.  Additional government policies in the 1960s allowed the removal of Aboriginal children from their communities and placed them in non-Aboriginal homes. This resulted in the break-up of families, loss of cultural identity, and in many cases, trauma and abuse.

At the same time it appears that some men seek out Indigenous women as targets for extreme acts of violence. These acts of violence against Indigenous women may be motivated by racism, or may be carried out in the expectation that society’s indifference to the welfare and safety of Indigenous women will allow the perpetrators to escape justice. Impunity for such violence contributes to a climate where such acts are seen as normal and acceptable rather than criminal, and where women do not seek justice because they know they will not get it.

(Adapted from Amnesty International’s No More Stolen Sisters October 2009)