The shameful numbers

The Hon. Senator Lillian Dyck spoke on campus October 28. Photo - Jael Bartnik

The Hon. Senator Lillian Dyck spoke on campus October 28. Photo – Jael Bartnik

Lecture examines stats behind missing and murdered Aboriginal women

On Oct. 28, the University of Regina hosted Hon. Senator Lillian Eva Quan Dyck, who gave a speech on the topic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. Sen.

Dyck, a well-known women’s advocate, as well as a member of the Liberal party and Saskatchewan’s Gordon First Nation, took a statistical approach to the issue in her lecture entitled “Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls: Revealing the Numbers Game.”

According to Dyck, between 1980 and 2014, there have been 1,017 Aboriginal women and girls murdered in Canada, with a further 164 missing. This makes Aboriginal women three times more likely to go missing, and four times more likely to be murdered than non-Aboriginal women. Dyck referred to the issue as a “national tragedy,” and chastised “the previous minister [Harper], RCMP, and the media” for misleading the public and ignoring data.

Sen. Dyck’s criticisms of the RCMP were centred on the numbers – namely their unreleased data on murder rates, changes in strategy based on incomplete or inconclusive numbers, and the subjectivity of police-collected racial statistics.

As Dyck pointed out, police collect racial data subjectively, which can often result in difficulties when an officer is asked to check a single box describing a suspect or victim’s race.

Dyck offered herself as an example of this, stating, “I’m Chinese, and I’m also Aboriginal. So what does that make me?”

The federal Conservatives were criticized for focusing their prevention efforts on Aboriginal males (a conclusion drawn from incomplete RCMP data). Dyck argued that their action plan is “flawed” due to its focus on familial violence occurring on reservations, when the data demonstrates that Aboriginal women are more likely to be murdered by a non-spousal acquaintance. Dyck later called the Conservatives “very mean-spirited” for their reluctance to hold a national inquiry on the topic.

Prime Minister-Designate Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise to hold an inquiry into Canada’s missing Aboriginal women and girls, the importance of which was emphasized throughout the lecture.

Sen. Dyck suggested that an inquiry address a wide variety of topics, including the various socio-cultural triggers and beliefs that result in violence against Aboriginal women and girls, the influences of alcohol on crime, and patterns of male authority.

In addition, Dyck suggested that an inquiry would determine harmful patterns in policing, sentencing, and the public perception of Aboriginal women, which results in increased violence.

As Dyck pointed out, this issue has an impact on all Aboriginal women and girls, even those who are not underprivileged.

Dyck noted that despite her relatively high socio-economic standing, she feels her safety is still at risk.

“Honestly, I don’t feel safe. I don’t go walking at night alone,” she said.

During the question period, the harsh reality of the issue was driven home by Lisa Bigeagle-Dustyhorn, who has been personally raising awareness of the issue since the 2007 disappearance of her sister, Danita Faith Bigeagle.

According to Bigeagle-Dustyhorn, “It’s really hard [to be an Aboriginal woman]. I have twelve children, and eight of them are girls… We’re always racially discriminated against.”

A survivor of attempted abduction and assault, Bigeagle-Dustyhorn described her own experiences, stating, “We [Aboriginal women and girls] can’t depend on the police… where do we go? Who do we turn to? Something needs to happen. Action needs to happen.”

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