U.N. Probes Canada’s Neglect of Aboriginal Women

By Sally Armstrong, WeNews guest author [March 9, 2014]

The first CEDAW investigation in a developed country is a “big black eye for Canada,” says one activist. The findings may not produce government action, but can stir activism, says Sally Armstrong in this excerpt from the book “Uprising.”

A placard in Vancouver with faces of some of the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
A placard in Vancouver with faces of some of the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Credit: M-J Milloy on Flickr, under Creative Commons

(WOMENSENEWS)–Canada, the United States, Scandinavia, Europe and Australia all made significant strides in equality rights for women in the second half of the 20th century. But along the way, the rights of aboriginal women were ignored, just as aboriginal people themselves were left out of equality equations in nation-building.Uprising: A New Age Is Dawning for Every Mother's Daughter

When Amnesty International accused Canada of overlooking the possible serial killing of aboriginal women in two reports, one written in 2003 and the next in 2009, they reminded Canadians that violence against aboriginal women is a long-held and nasty secret. Their plight was the theme of George Ryga’s brilliant play, “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe,” first performed at the Vancouver Play house in 1967. Later adapted as a ballet and translated into French, the play focused on violence perpetrated against the young Rita Joe at the hands of an entitled white society. When she was killed, nobody paid attention–which rang all too true in Canada.

So in 2003, when Amnesty International released its first report, “Stolen Sisters,” no one was really surprised that it addressed the fact that too many aboriginal women were missing in western Canada and not enough attention was being paid by the Canadian government. The report opened with the story of a woman whose name had become a symbol of struggle and the miscarriage of justice for the country’s aboriginal women.

Helen Betty Osborne was a 19-year-old Cree student from northern Manitoba who dreamed of becoming a teacher. On Nov. 13, 1971, she was abducted by four white men in the town of The Pas and then sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. A provincial inquiry subsequently concluded that Canadian authorities had failed Osborne. The inquiry criticized the sloppy and racially biased police investigation that took more than 15 years to bring one of the four men to justice. Most disturbingly, the inquiry concluded that police had long been aware of white men sexually preying on indigenous women and girls in The Pas but “did not feel that the practice necessitated any particular vigilance.” The 67-page report ended with a pointed demand that the government do something about it.

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