In the Blog
MMIW- Missing and Murdered Indigenous Men and Women
My mom had always told me that her aunt Mary had died after “a fall,” never specifying the exact nature of the circumstances surrounding her death. I did ask, how simply “falling” could have caused her death, and my mom shrugged. She didn’t know. Maybe Mary hit her head in exactly the right place? I wondered. Or maybe she had some un-diagnosed pre-existing condition? I pictured her done-up to-the-nines, just like my grandma always is, walking down the street like an elegant giraffe in too-high high-heels, her hair and make-up perfect, and then stumbling on some jagged bit of concrete, or maybe while stepping down from a curb.
It wasn’t until I posted a link to an article on Facebook—a list really—that I found out more about the nature of Aunt Mary’s death—an Incomplete List Of Indigenous Who Have Died Violent And Premature Deaths In Ontario. I saw the name Mary Peters King, and I thought, huh, I recognize those names, but it must be some other Mary Peters King. I posted the link, and it wasn’t until my mom said “I read that article you posted—you know, my Aunt Mary is on that list.” And I thought, Oh. She didn’t “fall.” Or if she fell it was because someone pushed her. You can read the list here.
The acronym MMIW or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, has helped spark a growing awareness of the number of women—not to mention the number of missing or murdered indigenous men—who have gone missing or been murdered at rates far greater than other groups of people. At least 1,017 women were murdered in the last three decades, and at least 1,750 men were murdered— these figures change day-to-day, and week-to-week, and depending on what source is quoted (Stats Canada, RCMP reports etc.). To say this isn’t a “sociological phenomenon” is to ignore these numbers, almost to ignore the fact that race, gender, or nationality play any part in these “crimes”—numbers that seem to grow larger and larger the more National focus has been placed on this issue.
I remember when the reports were of 500 women, then 600, 800, 1,000. Now nearly 1,200 MMIW according to the RCMP numbers as of May—and even more men than women have gone missing or been murdered, though the women seem to be gaining most of the spotlight, probably owing to community-led initiatives like the Sisters in Spirit (which had it’s funding cut by the Harper government), and high-profile commemorative art-installations like the Walking With Our Sisters project. Maybe this is due in part, to cultural values that view men as “stronger” and women as more in need of protection? Regardless of whatever lens of gender norms that is playing a part in media attention, it is clear First Nations people do not enjoy the same degree of safety as people who are not First Nations.
Canadians like to pride themselves on being nice, on being the good guys. These stereotypes of what it means to be Canadian and Canadian-ness are ingrained into the subconscious, and collective imaginations of what it means to be Canadian, but the history and reality of violence that has marked colonization and the interaction between settler governments and First Nations, and the continued violence of colonization as written on indigenous bodies and on indigenous lands, is in stark contrast to these fantasies of protaganism.
That there even needs to be an acronym for MMIW, a phrase that should probably be extended to MMIMW, and that the phrase has been repeated so many times, that it has been deemed necessary to have a short-form for this phrase, speaks to the scope of the problem. It is hard to wrap your head around it. To deny that there is no sociological scope to this problem is to deny the history of colonization, and cultural genocide that has happened—and continues to happen in this country. There is crime in this denial.
I won’t offer solutions to this widespread problem, a problem as vast as colonialism and colonization itself, and there are no doubt already many worthwhile studies that point to all manner of solutions or responsible parties. I would just say that the solutions should come from the families of the victims themselves, and from the effected communities. They know best the challenges they face, and any solutions will ring hollow without their direct input and participation.