Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal organizes vigil for MMIWG2ST+

Indigenous researchers blame the ongoing crisis on a lack of support for Indigenous communities

On Monday Feb. 14, Montrealers gathered at Cabot Square for a march in solidarity with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Trans and Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2ST+) held by the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM). The vigil began at 6 p.m. with Indigenous activists, artists and community organizers speaking out against the violence inflicted on Indigenous people.

MMIWG2ST+ is a phenomenon across Canada (and more broadly across the Americas) of Indigenous women and persons of gender minorities going missing and being murdered. This feminicide crisis is understood by researchers as a consequence of colonialism and police inaction when it comes to Indigenous victims. It is estimated that Indigenous women in Canada are murdered at nearly seven times the rate of non-Indigenous women.

Nicole Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau, the research coordinator for the Iskweu project at NWSM, believes that these figures are much higher. Qavavauq-Bibeau’s research has found that the actual numbers of MMIWG2ST+ are four times higher than the RCMP estimate.

“When an Indigenous woman passes away, it is often ruled super quickly as a suicide or overdose,” said Qavavauq-Bibeau. 

For Mohawk artist and activist Ellen Gabriel, this colonial vision of Indigenous women of all age groups comes from all layers of Canadian society. In a speech at the vigil, she mentioned how the Canadian government’s inaction regarding Indigenous people’s requests and the 231 Calls for Justice stemming from the National Inquiry’s Final Report into MMIWG2ST+ are the reasons why the current system is so reluctant to protect Indigenous women.

“When will you teach your children about the genocidal history in Canada, in Quebec, in all its provinces?” said Gabriel. “When is this going to happen? Because until this happens we are going to have vigils like this forever.”

Concordia’s Director of First Peoples Studies Catherine Kineweskwêw Richardson said this issue is on the minds of Indigenous scholars and professors at Concordia.

“In the scope of our program we educate students about the issue of MMIWG and I think we try to bring some issues in how the media talks about it,” said Richardson. “They never talk about who is killing these women.”

Richardson pointed out that the crisis is often framed as Indigenous women being vulnerable more so than focusing on the people perpetrating these crimes. 

According to her, one of the ways Concordia could help Indigenous women is by creating more opportunities for Indigenous students with policies specifically designed for their needs.

Richardson’s research echoes the words of activists who argue that colonial violence stems from all institutions that were built on a colonial system, like the police, social services, as well as schools and universities. 

“It’s a long term issue and if we don’t act to increase support for Indigenous students and Indigenous education, they’ll continue to fall off the edge,” said Richardson. “Like most universities, we at Concordia could be doing more to assist and uplift Indigenous students.”

Richardson pointed out that Indigenous communities, too, are finding their own solutions for educating youth. 

“We don’t look to the University to do everything but we could certainly do more to help,” she said.

For Richardson, some policies that could be implemented to help Indigenous students include encouraging them to go into graduate studies, building student housing, facilitating people moving from Indigenous communities to the city to study, and overall educating people around Indigenous issues. However, these solutions are slow to implement and the current administration is ill-suited to support Indigenous students. 

“I’ve stopped holding my breath,” said Richardson. “For every aspect of life at Concordia, they have to understand that Indigenous students have particular needs and we need to create opportunities.”

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