Every 66 Hours. Dead or Disappeared. A Colonial Gendered Lens on Genocide: Case Study on Canada's Genocide Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA People.

Date22 March 2022
AuthorUren, Megan

Genocide is happening today, and it will be happening tomorrow. It is not yet time to tell volunteers to stop dredging the Red River for dead bodies of Indigenous women and girls nor time for red dresses to stop being hung on the Highway of Tears. There are dead bodies in the water. There are missing bodies who were taken along wooded highways ...

This article evaluates the current rates of violence against Indigenous women in Canada within (1) the greater context of an ongoing colonial genocide against Indigenous peoples and (2) with a narrow-gendered lens on women. First, I will provide background on the international legal definition of genocide, and the perceptions behind physical, biological, and cultural genocide. Next, I will compare how colonial genocide differs from the Holocaust protype of genocide. Then, I will outline how colonial genocide against Indigenous peoples in Canada has evolved over time by dividing the centuries-long genocide into three broad stages. The first stage of colonial genocide began during the onset of colonial invasion in North America and was the most lethal stage in terms of reducing total Indigenous population by massacres, disease, and war. The second stage of colonial genocide took place in the twentieth century and was characterized by a shift to government state policy which fueled the perpetration and continuance of genocide intended to destroy the social unit of Indigenous communities (namely the Indian Act, the Residential Schools system, and the Sixties Scoop). The third stage is the modern genocidal violence perpetrated against Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA) people. Reimagining and reexamining genocide through a colonial and gendered lens reveals how genocide evolves over time and mutates in response to the resilience of the targeted group. Understanding how the current stage of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people manifested requires an examination of past evolving forms of genocide. Finally, I will return to the international legal definition of genocide and outline how throughout each stage of the three stages of colonial genocide, different genocidal acts align with the international legal definition of the crime of genocide.

Acknowledging Generalizations and Term Limitations of Analysis

First, while there is debate on the specific term to encompass multiple Indigenous, Aboriginal, and Native peoples, in my analysis I selected the terms Indigenous and Indigenous peoples, mirroring the terminology of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Second, my analysis does not distinguish specific histories and current statistics between different tribes of Indigenous people in Canada. Canada's Constitution legally recognizes three categories of Indigenous peoples: Inuit, Metis, and First Nations; however, the diversity of Indigenous people in Canada encompasses more than seventy different spoken languages and cultures. (1) It is important to note that there are multiple Indigenous bands throughout Canada who have differing historical experiences with colonial genocide with varying scales of intensity over time. While Indigenous peoples are not "one homogenous group," collectively Indigenous peoples are "targeted due to their distinct culture, language, spirituality, occupation of traditional land" and therefore for the purposes of this analysis are considered a collective protected group under the international prohibition against genocide. (2)

Third, another challenge in the study of colonial genocide is quantifying a precise death count. Statistics of deaths throughout the centuries are only estimates, and in recent decades remain estimates due to the government lacking records and underreporting from Indigenous communities. This is also true for the estimated statistics on the murdered and disappeared Indigenous women throughout the past years. This is challenging because without a concrete number, it is hard to conceptualize the magnitude of loss. The paradigm of colonial genocide is full of many intangibles, including precise death count.

Fourth, for purposes of simplicity, I refer to Canada as the nation state for the genocide taking place. Importantly, the nation-state of Canada was not established until 1867, well after the onset of colonial genocide from European invasion on Indigenous lands.

Fifth, for purposes of analytical organization, I divided Canada's colonial genocide into three broad generalized stages: (1) initial outright murder during the onset of colonialism, (2) genocidal state implemented policies, and (3) modern genocidal violence against indigenous women, girls and Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA) people. This is a broad oversimplification of the timespan of centuries-long colonial genocide; however, my division of different historical stages seeks to separate the timeline of expressed outright slaughter from that of state legislated destructive action to understand how the distinct stages interact to reinforce the most modern stage of genocide.

Sixth, my analysis examines genocide through a gendered lens. Reflecting the National Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, women and girls, along with 2SLGBTQQIA peoples are recognized in analysis. 2SLGBTQQIA peoples encompass two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual peoples. (3) Parts of the analysis narrow only to women and girls due to statistic-based reporting; however, the analysis seeks to encompass 2SLGBTQQIA peoples into the gendered context of modern genocidal violence rates. By focusing analysis on colonial genocide and its current manifestation toward Indigenous women, I am not discounting the colonial genocidal experience of Indigenous men. This article seeks to expose how the colonial genocide has resulted in a modern genocide against women specifically. Colonial genocide includes patriarchal indoctrination of European colonial social and political structures that impose inferiority on Indigenous women in both Canadian society and within their modern Indigenous communities, something that is not experienced by Indigenous men. Further, the most recent form of genocide in Canada against women is a "very gender-specific issue" because the violence against Indigenous women and girls "is committed almost exclusively by men (Indigenous and non-Indigenous)." (4)

Seventh, the term "missing" is a misnomer. "Missing" may imply that women and girls have temporarily ran away or are temporarily lost. In reality the term "missing" encompasses women and girls forcibly taken against their will or whose bodies have not yet been found. (5) The reality is far more "sinister" than the word "missing" may imply. (6) It is more accurate to term these women and girls "disappeared" since it involves the "conscious act of others involved (usually men) taking them from their friends, families, support networks, communities, and nations." (7) Disappeared is the term I will mainly use throughout this paper.

Lastly, genocide studies are intersectional, including, but not limited to the study of, law, politics, history, and cultural studies. Lastly, this analysis acknowledges the intersectionality of genocide, which includes aspecs of law, politics, and history.

  1. Introduction

    "Never again" was the refrain that rang throughout the international community after the horrific genocide of the WWII Holocaust left six million Jewish people murdered within a few years. However, while the notion of brutal bloodshed sourced in ethnic hatred is conceptualized as something of the past-incapable of replication--never again!", this is not the reality. In Rwanda in 1994, genocide happened again; over a half of a million Tutsi people, a minority ethnic group, were murdered. (8) Then, only one year later in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on a continent perceived as civilized and globally dominant, genocide materialized yet again with the largest ethnic massacre in Europe since WWII: in July 1995, while the world stood by, over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and plowed into mass graves. (9) Despite the perception of genocide as a horror of the past, never to be repeated, genocide is still happening today.

    1. Genocide in Canada Today

      Approximately every sixty-six hours, one woman is murdered or goes missing in Canada. (10) Within the past thirty years, the number of reported murdered cases and missing reports has collectively surpassed 4,000 women and girls, although the number in reality is likely higher to account for unreported and unsolved cases. (11) In addition, Indigenous women in Canada are sixteen times more likely than Caucasian women to be murdered or disappeared. (12) This gendered violence is not a new phenomenon but is connected to the longevity of a colonial genocide that has been happening since the onset of European colonialism in North America.

      The most recent murder to spark media coverage and to create political pressure to address violence against Indigenous women and girls was a violent murder that took place in 2014. (13) Fifteen-year-old Tina Fontaine's body was pulled from Winnipeg's Red River with a subsequent acquittal of the white man who murdered her. (14) This murder of a child was especially infuriating because it occurred as a result of multiple stages of failed government action. As Pam Palmater writes, it is important to understand that Tina did not "slip through the cracks" but instead, "at several points in her young life police and other state officials watched her death unfold in slow motion." (15) Shortly before her death, police found Tina with a fifty-three-year-old intoxicated man, and despite identifying her as a foster care child, the police released her...

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