FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Today’s Truth Starts with Sisters In Spirit
MANITOULIN ISLAND, October 17, 2017 – Why doesn’t every conversation and article about Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women start with at least a mention of Sisters In Spirit? The Sisters In Spirit website was a subsidiary of NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada), and it wasn’t just a catalogue of missing and murdered women, it was a catalogue of first hand testimony of the family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women, of maltreatment by RCMP, provincial police, and local police. Distraught families were ignored, ridiculed and sometimes threatened by ‘investigating’ officers. Evidence was offered and often willfully ignored. This was more than unprofessionalism. There are hundreds of testimonies going back decades. When I first discovered the website I was glued to the screen for hours, and I came away knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our country’s police forces from coast to coast to coast are riddled with racist cops, and this racist attitude is institutionalized.
When I went back to the website to try to incorporate it into my Gr. 11 Native Studies classroom in 2011, it was gone. Funding had been pulled by the Harper government. Not only that, but NWAC had been told they must never use the logo or name Sisters In Spirit or they would have their funding pulled and face legal action. So much for the ‘apology’.
After Idle No More caught us all on fire, and after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission completed its excellent work, I saw little red dresses hanging on signs and in front of houses on the First Nation Reserves where I live. I saw the Sisters in Spirit logo on a sign at a protest in the news. There is a Sisters in Spirit facebook page, and a minimalist presence is reinstated on the NWAC website. But that databank of first hand testimony, stretching back into the early 80’s, is unattainable.
Senator Murray Sinclair tells us that we’re just at the beginning of the reconciliation process, that it will be long and difficult. However, I’ve heard from several local First Nations Anishinaabe people that we can’t get into Reconciliation yet, that we’re still at the Truth part. The TRC was about uncovering the truth of our past. The inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is about uncovering the truth First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples are living in today. Today’s truth is on a direct continuum born out of the Residential School experience: it’s called Intergenerational Traumatic Response. A decade of Nazism has left the Jewish community with a hefty load of Intergenerational Traumatic Response. How deep and painful is the ongoing Intergenerational Traumatic Response of today’s Indigenous peoples after one hundred years of Residential Schools, after centuries of colonialism, and all of this within a continued apartheid system?
The work of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women has, in one way, already been done. Just reopen the files of Sisters In Spirit which, we can hope, someone at NWAC has kept safe. It’s all there: our police and justice institutions are racist. If we allow this system to continue without an exposé by the Inquiry, we would tell perpetrators, victims, and families of victims that, in Canada, crimes against Indigenous women are ok.
The work of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman is, in many ways, insurmountable, no matter how passionate, professional, or cooperative the people on its panel. It is almost insurmountable because it will take every Canadian recognizing and actively living in a true Nation to Nation dialogue to mend this apartheid system.
One thing is for certain: it was always going to take more than two years, and the scope was always going to have to include an exposition of our police forces and justice system.
Sarah Hutchinson is a freelance writer living on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada
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