December 6 is a day to remember the Polytechnique victims

Do not idly stand by while violence and abuse are committed

To the Expositor:

Today, December 6, is a day to remember the women who were killed at a polytechnic in Montreal some years ago. On that day in 1989, a man walked into a classroom with a gun, opened fire, and killed 14 women, wounded 14 others, 10 of them women, students in an engineering program. 

Violence against women takes many forms, including such things as the December 6, 1989 massacre, through to various types of physical violence, sexual abuse, stalking, intimidation, destruction of property, assaults on women’s loved ones, and so on. 

But there are other forms of violence against women, such as systemic and structural violence. The systemic one occurs in such things as the Indian Act, which is silent on Indigenous women’s human rights to secure indigenous land tenure on Indigenous homelands. The systemic violence occurs when federal government legislation like the Indian Act only goes as far as providing Certificates of Possession to “Indians” living on Indian reserves in Canada. A Certificate of Possession is not 100 percent true ownership. It is only the Crown’s permission to “live on, use, and occupy” our own homelands. The structural violence takes place when federal legislation says to Indian women, “Full legal title to Indian lands rests with the Crown.” 

Structural violence occurs when a band council says to its people, “there is a moratorium on land requests.” To women, this means that we cannot even apply for our own homelands. The systemic violence happens when a band council prescribes the ways in which an Indian can apply for land, and then not provide the process or procedure by which a band member is to follow through. Systemic violence occurs when the local authorities remain silent on financial delinquencies of those who are in arrears for house payments, while at the same time criminalizing the female who uses her own funds to pay for house repairs on housing that was given to her according to traditional Anishinaabe custom. The systemic violence occurs when a judge in a courtroom interrupts an Indigenous woman’s presentation in Anishinaabemowin by saying, “stop that! We’re not playing games here!” The systemic and structural violence appears in the form of courts who say to a plaintiff wanting to be heard about Indigenous women’s human rights to secure indigenous land tenure, “there are no merits to the case” or “the plaintiff is abusing the system.” The systemic and structural violence occurs when a female indigenous elder is “criminalized” for expressing grief, loss, trauma, and homelessness, while the perpetrator who stalked, swore, attempted to intimidate, and destroyed property, was merely “spoken to.” The perpetrator ought to have been charged with criminal harassment, elder abuse, fraud and theft. 

Violence against women is even more insidiously practiced when a woman is not believed, is not heard, or is not allowed to speak up about the violence that is perpetrated against her. This is when the patriarchy says things like, “oh, you’re just imagining it” or, “it didn’t happen” or, “who’s going to believe you anyway?” The structural violence occurs when women are paid up to one-third less in wages or salaries in the workplace. The structural violence occurs when onlookers exercise wilful blindness when an abuser is allowed to belittle or berate a female who has done nothing wrong.

Canada holds itself out as a haven of human rights. Tell that to the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women. Tell that to the families of the students who went missing, were drowned, or were murdered on the riverbanks and parklands in Thunder Bay. Tell that to the mothers who were forced to give up their newborn babies for adoption for the crime of being poor.

If you see wrongdoing, and say nothing about it, or do nothing about it, it’s the same thing as if you’re doing the wrongdoing. What can possibly be right about throwing an Indigenous female Anishinaabe elder out of her own home, off her land, not once, but twice? It is impossible for an Indigenous woman to trespass on Indigenous homelands. It is not possible for an indigenous female elder to live illegally on traditional Anishinaabe lands. Someone made the cruel suggestion recently, “get over it.” It’s the same thing as some members of Canadian society saying to indigenous peoples about dishonoured treaties, residential school abuse, imposition of foreign religions, prohibition of Indigenous languages, forbidding cultural practices and wholesale theft of Indigenous homelands, “get over it.” The problem with this is that if we forget history, or if we don’t learn history in the first place, then we run the risk of making the same sad, tragic, horrific mistakes over and over again.

Marie McGregor-Pitawanakwat

Whitefish River First Nation