PAUL DEWAR MP, Ottawa Centre – December 2014

Upholding high standards of human rights and social democratic values

Fall is one of my favourite times to be in Ottawa. The golden afternoon sunshine,the bright red leaves of the trees, the availability of wonderful, locally produced foods in the markets, fresh in from the harvest, makes my city an exciting place to be.

There are also much more serious things happening in the city. A few weekends ago, I had the honour of speaking at the Sisters of Spirit vigil, held in honour of all the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Every Oct. 4, people gather and add names to the list, which now numbers more than 1,000 women. My colleague, Jean Crowder, and I assured the crowd that we would not rest until there was a national enquiry investigating where and why these women had been taken.

There is an ongoing systemic problem of violence against Indigenous women in this country. This issue is reinforced by particular structures, attitudes, and institutions which either encourage perpetrators or refuse to acknowledge the existence or the severity of the violence. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples found that some Canadian federal legislation has had a negative impact on Canadian Aboriginals, and we have yet to acknowledge the role that these laws had in perpetrating violence. Instead, people have pointed fingers at the Aboriginal peoples themselves, blaming them for their suffering under colonialism and systemic racism.

There is a critical disconnect between the Indigenous societies and the non-Indigenous society of European immigrants. Aboriginal peoples traditionally honour women as life-givers, valued community members, and vessels of the cultural history and vitality of the entire people. In contrast, persistent colonial attitudes have asserted the role of women as second-class citizens, as inferior beings, a way of thinking that continues to devalue both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. Yet we continue to treat these horrors like everything will be just fine, the same way the staggering environmental damage of the Athabasca tar sands will be just fine, the same way that any time the autonomy, agency, and identity of living beings is snuffed out will be just fine.

Romeo Saganash, the NDP’s Deputy Critic for Intergovernmental Aboriginal Affairs, delivered an impassioned speech in mid-September, when the New Democrats were able to override the Conservatives and take over the House debate. He expressed the urgent need for a national enquiry. “Where is the Canada we used to know… the one that has the history of upholding high standards of human rights and social democratic values?” he asked. I, like Mr. Saganash, and many Canadian people, both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal, also wish to know. And we will make sure an enquiry is made into the injustice committed against these women.

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