This fall, we held our first Awareness Into Action (AIA) series of workshop events. Awareness Into Action creates opportunities for women in our community to learn about an issue over the course of two separate workshops, to allow for a more in-depth look, and then take action on that issue, together with other women.
Indigenous women and girls now make up almost 27 per cent of female homicide victims. Just this summer, the report of the National Inquiry Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released. It identified persistent human rights abuses as the root cause of the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women, and called for transformative legal and social changes to resolve the crisis that has devastated Indigenous communities across Canada. We decided to make gender-based violence against Indigenous women the focus of our first AIA series.
We started by learning about what constitutes violence against women, the systemic forces that make some women more at risk of experiencing violence, and the ways we can address violence and offer help to women who are experiencing it (Violence Against Women, September 23).
We continued by learning about the origins of Indigenous women’s marginalization in our society and the specific vulnerability to violence they experience, that has led to staggering rates of violence against them (Violence Against Indigenous Women, October 1). Facilitator Marilyn North Peigan, who works with Native Counselling Services of Alberta, and is a Canadian Forces Veteran and a Commissioner on the Calgary Police Commission, had a presentation, followed by a facilitated Q&A.
Drawing on her Master’s studies work on the history and future potential for Indigenous women’s organizing, Marilyn talked about gender relationships and principles of social order that were customary in times before contact with European settlers. Women’s and men’s relationships were complementary, as opposed to egalitarian or hierarchical. Women had important roles in production and politics of their communities. This changed as the process of colonization began: “in order to integrate and subordinate Indigenous peoples into a colonial system of power, Indigenous societies were reorganized along patriarchal lines.” The presenter shared a view that the social and cultural denigration of Indigenous women – a “learned disrespect” – has its roots in the institutionalization of European patriarchy, and that arguably, both First Nations men and women may have internalized the settler society’s devaluation of First Nations women.
During the Q&A conversation with more than 30 women present, Marilyn encouraged women to share their experiences and views, and listened with empathy and kindness. Several participants expressed how new to them was this approach to talking about violence against Indigenous women and its root causes. Others decided to share painful stories of their own or their close relatives’ past victimization. It was a hard, but ultimately hopeful conversation.
We wrapped up that evening by inviting everyone to join us for sign-making and walking together to the Sisters in Spirit Vigil. Each year on October 4th, communities across Canada come together to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Close to 15 women came on Friday morning, passionate about standing with Indigenous women and girls.
We would like to thank all the women in our community who took part in our first Awareness Into Action series, keen not only to learn more about violence the Indigenous women in our communities face, but also to do something about it. You can view a short CBC video from the Vigil, here.
Please keep an eye on our calendar for the next Awareness Into Action series in the spring of 2020.
The Awareness Into Action series was generously supported by a Community Investment Grant of the United Nations Association of Canada (Calgary branch).