Honouring All Aboriginal Women!

Great news this second day of November! The Federal government did not grant the authorizations for Prosperity Mine. Minister Jim Prentice said he had to follow the recommendations of the Environmental Assessment Process! Good to know that the Federal Government has recognized the harm to aboriginal rights and title and the environment! All is not lost!
I am delighted that the Vancouver Sun’s 100 Top Women of Influence in BC included 7 Aboriginal Women. Chief Kim Baird was the main featured woman. Included in this list were Carole James, Wendy Grant John, Sophie Pierre, Dorothy Grant, Susan Point and Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. 7% of the women mentioned, not bad but it could do better. I am sure there are more of our First Nations women in BC moving and shaking and influencing many walks of life, for instance, Barb Ward Burkitt received the 2010 Order of BC for her 40 years of service in the Friendship Centre movement. Jody Wilson Raybould, is the BC AFN Regional Chief, the only woman in the top political circle of BC First Nations organizations. Marlane Christensen heads up the Industry Council of Aboriginal Business making a difference for bridging the gap between business and aboriginal people. Dr. Joanne Archibald making a difference at UBC in education and Dr. Lorna Williams at UVIC. Chief Lydia Hwitsum, chief of the largest First Nation in BC and heading up many thriving businesses. Kathryn Tennesse as Chair of the New Relationship Trust that manages the 100 million dollar trust fund. I could go on and on about many women who play important roles in our communities. 
It has always been my biggest disappointment that we have not yet had a female National Chief. Wendy Grant John, Roberta Jamieson and Marilyn Buffalo at one time or another were unsuccessful in their bids for the top job. I am not sure the many men chiefs who vote in the national election are ready to have a woman National Chief. Canada has had a woman Prime Minister and BC a woman premier, no matter how short lived and it is time for a woman to lead the Assembly of First Nations and I hope that in the near future, that will happen. I do not want a woman National chief for the sake of having a woman, I want a capable, visionary, eloquent leader that can change the course of history and I know a woman can be that. 
That being said, we must contrast the celebration of the achievements of our influential woman and determine how we can help make society, government, and police to respect and treasure all our women no matter what their walk of life. I am referring to the missing women in BC, the victims of Robert Pickton and other similar events. When tragedy happens and it is an aboriginal woman, why isn’t every available remedy employed to right the wrong? Why aren’t aboriginal women treated the same as everyone else? 
It doesn’t seem to matter how many inquiries or royal commissions there are, the recommendations are not fully implemented or they do not address the right problem. There needs to be a legal mechanism to ensure that all recommendations are put into action within a reasonable time frame. The First Nations leadership of this province should meet with the governments/police and put together a team that will take the recommendations of the Pickton inquiry when completed, put them into an action plan with time frames and monitor the progress to ensure that change really does happen. This should include recommendations from all inquires that involved aboriginal people.  But what is needed even more is analyzing the whole policing system and make real and effective changes.  This process would necessarily include First Nations who would have a strong role in a systems evaluation and how to reorganize and improve the system.  This should be lobbied for as well.
Racism and lack of respect for First Nations people is pne of the systemic issues in the cases of the missing and murdered women. The ‘labelling’ of First Nations people, that include words like “poor, drunks, addicts, worthless “ are alive and well and we must do all we can to eradicate those labels and others from our lives. It is through education and role modeling that we can change people’s attitude about the value of lives of aboriginal women and get beyond racism. Positive attitudes have to start with the people at the top, whether it is the Prime Minister, the Premier, the head of the RCMP or Vancouver Police and ensure that everyone within their bureaucracy thinks and feels the same way. The value of human life extends to all people, no matter what the circumstance and justice must serve everyone equally. More emphasis has to be put on changing attitudes in this country for all ages.
The bigger problem stems from the question of why so many of our women are disadvantaged and end up on the downtown eastside of Vancouver, or hitchhiking on the Trail of Tears. Lack of housing, jobs, day care, and the inability to feel safe are often why women leave their communities. No matter how hard we have tried to work with the Federal Government, they insist on a 3% cap on the money going to First Nations, and there is no willingness to work with First Nations to ensure there is enough good quality homes available with clean drinking water on every reserve that women call home. There needs to be a reason to remain in the community. Granted this takes money but if we are to start resolving some of the bigger social problems in our communities, it would be worth the investment. The government in announcing how the $10 million dollars for dealing with the missing and murdered woman was to spent had a long list of how they are supposedly helping in the areas of living conditions, literacy and education, health, interactions with the justice system and others. There has been no noticeable increase in moneys going to First Nations to corroborate these statements. 
The federal government said the $10 million dollars for the issue of the murdered and missing woman will be used for taking measures to improve law enforcement and the justice system through things like a new National police support Centre for Missing Person to help police forces across Canada by providing coordination and specialized support in missing persons investigations and enhancing the Canadian Police Information Centre database to capture additional missing persons data. The money will also be used to improve culturally appropriate victim services, new awareness materials, pilot projects and new school and community based pilot projects targeted to young aboriginal woman and safety plans for women living in aboriginal communities.
Looking at this $10 million expenditure you have to ask “Are we putting the money in the right places? Or are we just sticking our finder in the dyke and not addressing the real problems.”   Don’t get me wrong, some of the initiatives being funded are good ones, but in the overall picture of things, what will it fix? Where is the larger overall strategy to address the whole issue and not just another band aid approach.
Every First Nations woman in this province should be vying to be on the list for 100 most influential women in BC. In order to achieve that, we need to remove the barriers, change devastating living situations, address the entire problem and empower our women to make the most of the lives and follow the example of the Chief Kim Bairds of this world.

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