Remember the Road They Walked
Instead of token efforts, instead let us instead try to look at the pain and grief of missing aboriginal daughters more closely.
‘She was your daughter; your sister; your aunt; and mine too.’
NDP forces debate on aboriginal women
By Lee-Anne Goodman — CP — Sep 19 2014
OTTAWA – An aboriginal MP delivered a powerful plea Friday for a national inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women, recalling his own brother’s death as a five-year-old in a residential school 60 years ago.
Romeo Saganash, an NDP member from northern Quebec’s Nunavik region, implored the Conservative government to call an inquiry after the New Democrats successfully moved a motion allowing them to raise the issue in the House of Commons.
“The violence that is perpetrated against indigenous women is the violence against the environment today, and the same violence that assaulted parents and grandparents in residential schools,” Saganash told the chamber.
The NDP, billing Friday’s vote as a victory over a government that was “asleep at the switch,” took advantage of scant Tory attendance after the daily question period to pass a motion related to committee hearings on the inquiry question.
The Tories apparently couldn’t round up enough members to return to the House to shut down the motion, and so those in the chamber ended up voting in favour of it.
During the ensuing hour-long debate, Conservative MP Susan Truppe defended the government’s record on murdered and missing aboriginal women. So too did Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, a Nunavut MP.
“I am an aboriginal woman; I stand in this House and listen, day in and day out, to the debates in Commons from the NDP and the Liberals talking about aboriginal women’s issues but when it comes to taking real action, I see the opposite happen day in and day out,” she said.
“I’m an aboriginal woman who went to a residential school …. But I also came into this House to make change to help aboriginal women.”
But it was Saganash’s memories of his mother’s decades of grief over his brother, Jonish, that provided the most poignant moments of the unexpected debate.
“He was five years old,” Saganash said. “He never came back. Apparently, he died the first year he arrived at the residential school.”
Their mother never knew where her son had been buried, Saganash added. Forty years later, his sister learned of the burial spot, filmed it and showed Saganash’s mother the footage.
“The day she saw that video — I had never seen her cry that way. That was closure. That is what we call closure …. This is what indigenous families in this country need. That is what they want. That is why they are calling for this national inquiry.”
In remarks that earned a rousing standing ovation from the NDP benches, Saganash said aboriginal women are much more likely to fall victim to violence than their non-native counterparts. He said an inquiry needs to examine the root causes at play.
“Where is the Canada we used to know, Mr. Speaker — the one that has the history of upholding high standards of human rights and social democratic values in this country?”
“It is no longer here.”
Calls have been growing ever louder over the past year for a public inquiry to examine what is behind the alarming number of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
An RCMP report released in May found aboriginal women have been much more prone to violent deaths than non-native women in Canada. Police have compiled a list of 1,026 deaths and 160 missing-persons cases involving aboriginal women, the report said — hundreds more than previously believed.
The latest federal budget committed $25 million over five years to address crimes against aboriginal women and girls. But the opposition NDP and Liberals have been demanding a sweeping national inquiry.
Follow Lee-Anne Goodman on Twitter at @leeanne25