Friday, June 5, 2009

a slow-motion massacre of aboriginal women

i went to the amnesty international discussion on violence against aboriginal women last night. it was a shocking, eye-opening event for a safely white man like myself. this land that is to me filled with pleasant memories and bucolic landscapes is for many others the scene of a crime.

i interviewed the guest speaker, monica aleman for a metro article that ran yesterday. she's a wonderful person: warm, passionate and intelligent. she's from nicaragua and was introduced as the daughter of a strong indigenous political leader. i was briefly confused when the introducer went on to talk about monica's mother, who was a village governor abducted by the rebel contras when monica was a child. she said in those long days when she waited for her mother to come home, she decided that someone had to do something to stop violence against aboriginal women, and that that someone was her. her mother did come home - and went on to become a government minister and played a key role in getting rape categorized as a war crime.

i wrote up my thoughts on it for culture corner, which is pasted below. the photo is of tanya jean brooks, an aboriginal woman murdered in central halifax last month.

Monica Aleman’s indigenous mother was abducted and tortured by rebel Contras in Nicaragua. Jennifer Lord’s Metis grandmother was beaten by her husband in Alberta. Catherine Martin, a Mi’kmaw filmmaker, documented the murder of Annie Mae Pictou-Aquash, a Nova Scotia First Nations woman killed in the United States.
The three women gathered at Halifax’s North-End Library last week for a public discussion on violence against aboriginal women. Whether it was Aleman recounting political violence or Lord fighting off tears as she remembered her grandmother’s suffering, women in the audience understood them as well as if they had been reading from their own diaries.
Aleman works with the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, Lord with the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Martin works artistically from her Millbrook First Nation home, but the stories were the same: global violence against aboriginal women always touches down at home.
The windows behind the speakers look out onto St. Patrick’s-Alexandra School. Last month, a 36-year-old woman named Tanya Jean Brooks was found murdered in a window well at the school. Friends told media the mother of five from Millbrook First Nation “was friendly and had a good heart.”
It’s been nearly a month. Police “are still working on the file,” Const. Brian Palmeter of Halifax Regional Police told me Friday. “We’re still hopeful that there will be a resolution in the matter. We’re still working our leads.”
He said they’ve been talking to friends and family of Brooks, as well as to people around the school. One witness told a newspaper he’d seen a group six people following a lone person the night before the killing, but couldn’t say if the person was Brooks. “I saw the interview on one of the TV stations and certainly any information like that would be followed up by the investigators,” Palmeter said.
He didn’t know if investigators had in fact talked to the witness.
“There is no local problem that does not have an impact at the global level, especially when it comes to the situation faced by women,” Aleman told me.
Lord, who’s based in Ottawa, is compiling a list of unsolved murdered or disappeared aboriginal woman. She’s up to 520.
That’s maybe 520 murderers walking freely in Canada, Lord observed. “I see myself in all those women,” she said as faces of the dead filled the screen behind her.
Stopping this slow-motion massacre of aboriginal women is going to be a long, complicated process requiring a huge amount of work. Better educating the rest of Canada would be a start. For example, did you know aboriginals only got the vote in 1960? I spent 20 years in Canadian schools, but didn’t learn that, or anything about residential schools and how they left a real, multi-generational effect.
The sort of effect that kills women like Tanya Jean Brooks.
The Kitpu Youth Centre is holding a public Pow Wow on Saturday, June 13, at noon on the Dartmouth Commons. Check out the music and dancing; call 420-1576 or e-mail for more information.

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