Saturday, October 01, 2005

Our Native Sisters

Over the last 10 to 15 years, hundreds of Aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada. Some sources say that the figure is close to 500 but others say that's debatable. Regardless of the exact figure, the situation is alarming. Imagine if we were talking about white women! Premiers would be declaring an epidemic. Members of Parliament would be lobbying for better law enforcement and accountability. Parent groups would be organizing to make their communities safer. But because we're talking about a group of people who are already marginalized; at a higher risk for poverty and family violence; more likely to be abused sexually and physically; and more prone to ending up in prison or working in the sex trade than their Caucasian sisters, no one is terribly upset.

As many of you may know, 69 women have gone missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Approximately 27 have been confirmed dead and notorious serial killer, Robert Pickton, the modern-day equivalent of Jack the Ripper, is behind bars. According to Wayne Leng, approximately 17 of the missing women in Vancouver were Aboriginal and two were of mixed race. Wayne runs an incredible web site entitled Missing People Net as a tribute to these women, so that they will not be remembered as simply "prostitutes." They were people and each one was unique. He has posted a picture of every woman on his site to remind us of their individuality.

Today, Wayne sent me an article that was published in the Vancouver Sun. It said that last year, the Missing Persons Unit in Vancouver received 3847 complaints. A large number of these were about runaways but 315 had to do with unsolved homicides. Apparently -- hope that you're sitting down for this one -- there is ONE person operating the Missing Persons Unit in Vancouver! Gosh, I hope that he takes large doses of vitamin C. If he were to come down with a common cold, the entire department could be crippled. Worse, this one individual is also the liaison to the coroner's office, so he can't completely devote the little time that he has to the job at hand.

Clearly, we need to restate our priorities. White women who go missing get their pictures flashed all over TV until something more exciting like a big hurricane comes along.

Little Tamra Keepness disappeared from Regina last year when she was five. She has never resurfaced but I have yet to hear updates on her story on Canada AM. And Tamra was just a cute little girl. She wasn't a sex trade worker with a heroin habit, which would make her absence even less interesting to the major media.

Right now, I'm reading the book Missing Sarah by Maggie de Vries. Sarah was one of the unfortunate souls whose DNA was found on the Pickton pig farm but for some inexplicable reason, that doesn't seem to be enough evidence to convict him of her murder. When I'm finished with this emotionally charged and illuminating book written by Sarah's author sister, I will post more about it here. Suffice to say that it is well worth reading and remembering the continuing role that color plays in our multicultural and supposedly accepting society.

Sigrid Mac

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