FILE – An eagle feather is held up during a rally for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 4, 2016. With reports of a sharp rise in violence against Indigenous women as COVID-19 restrictions keep families stuck in their homes, concerns are being raised about whether the pandemic could delay the promised June delivery of a national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

FILE – An eagle feather is held up during a rally for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 4, 2016. With reports of a sharp rise in violence against Indigenous women as COVID-19 restrictions keep families stuck in their homes, concerns are being raised about whether the pandemic could delay the promised June delivery of a national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Violence against Indigenous women during COVID-19 sparks calls for MMIWG plan

One in five Indigenous woman told survey takers they’d experience violence in past three months

With reports of a sharp rise in violence against Indigenous women as COVID-19 restrictions keep families stuck in their homes, concerns are being raised about whether the pandemic could delay the promised June delivery of a national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has been conducting a series of nation-wide, grassroots consultations with their local member offices and with Indigenous women to determine how COVID-19 has been affecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis women in Canada.

The preliminary results reveal a deeply concerning spike in the number of Indigenous women who say they are facing more violent incidents since the pandemic began, often by an intimate partner.

A survey of more than 250 Indigenous women found one in five reporting they’ve been a victim of physical or psychological violence over the past three months.

Also, the preliminary results of this survey and two additional consultations suggest more of these women are concerned about domestic violence in the midst of this pandemic than they are about the virus.

Native Women’s Association President Lorraine Whitman says she finds the numbers “shocking” and is deeply concerned about the safety of Indigenous women in Canada, as public health officials continue to ask people to remain in their homes.

“We know in a perfect world staying at home is a safe place, but it isn’t a perfect world and it isn’t a safe place for some of our women and families,” Whitman said.

“With the social distancing and self-isolation, women have had to stay in a home in a confined area with their abuser or perpetrator and they cannot escape. There’s nowhere where they can go.”

The federal government did commit $40 million in funding to Women and Gender Equality Canada, with up to $30 million earmarked for the “immediate needs” of shelters and sexual assault centres. Another $10 million was provided to Indigenous Services Canada’s existing network of 46 emergency shelters on reserve and in Yukon to support Indigenous women and children fleeing violence.

But Whitman says many shelters and sexual assault centres in the country are not run for or by Indigenous people, which is why many First Nations, Inuit and Metis women won’t access them, even if they’re in trouble.

“They don’t have that comfort zone there and they’re not culturally influenced or inclusive of the Indigenous values that we have and our traditions and ceremonies.”

Even before the pandemic began, Indigenous women in Canada were facing higher levels of violence and abuse — a stark reality laid bare in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The situation has been made worse by the arrival of COVID-19 in Canada, Whitman said.

That’s why, earlier this week, the Native Women’s Association held a virtual roundtable with Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and International Development Minister Karina Gould urging the federal government to implement a national plan for meeting the inquiry’s 231 “calls for justice.”

The urgency has been heightened by the global pandemic crisis, Whitman said.

“We need to have some action. The families of the missing and murdered women and girls and two-spirited (individuals), we’re tired of talk. If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. And I’m not seeing that.”

READ MORE: Easing COVID-19 restrictions too soon could jeopardize vulnerable communities

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said in December the federal government would release its national action plan to respond to the inquiry’s findings in June of this year, which would mark the one-year anniversary of the release of the calls for justice.

In Ottawa on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said work on this national response to the inquiry’s work has been ongoing and that this work is “more important than it has ever been.”

“This government has worked from the beginning to give more support to shelters and organizations and networks that are supporting victims of family violence or gender-based violence. We will continue to do that work,” he said.

“We will continue to work very hard on that national action plan coming from the missing and murdered inquiry. This is a priority that continues and is even intensified because of this crisis.”

Michele Audette, who worked as a commissioner on the MMIWG inquiry, says she believes work on the national action plan — which she says must also include commitments from the provinces and territories — has been delayed by several events over the last year, including the election.

However, she believes even if an action plan had already been in place before the pandemic began, she’s not convinced it would have changed the sad realities now being faced by Indigenous women experiencing increased incidents of violence.

“I don’t know if we would see a change right away because it’s rooted so deeply in the culture, the colonial system,” Audette said.

“Because we are facing the impact of colonialism, we are not a top priority and we can see it with COVID right now.”

She stressed the need for all levels of government — federal, provincial, municipal and Indigenous — to ensure shelters, social workers and first responders who serve Indigenous populations are well supported so they can respond to issues of violence against women.

NDP MP Leah Gazan says the Liberal government has failed to adequately respond to the MMIWG inquiry’s work.

“With the increasing rate of violence, which has occurred during COVID, we are now in an even worse crisis,” she said.

“We need to move swiftly. This is a life and death situation.”

READ MORE: ‘Go back to the old way:’ First Nations return to land during COVID-19 pandemic

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

A small fraction of the people behind the Christmas Hamper Program in 2019. From left to right, Larry Olsson, Patti Larson, Kathleen Hammond and Gladys Dyer. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
In the giving spirit? Here is what you can do this Christmas season

Support Revelstoke Community Connections Christmas programs this year

Okanagan College students Michael Ochoa and Tallin Gregoire, both members of the Okanagan Indian Band, raised the Okanagan Nation Alliance flag on July 16, 2019,  outside the Vernon campus. (Karissa Gall photo)
First Nations reconciliation personified at Okanagan College

President Jim Hamilton’s foresight has opened post-secondary education doors for Okanagan College’s Indigenous students

Sunny the cat jumped out of the truck at the Revelstoke Landfill earlier this month and was quickly reunited with his owners. (Submitted)
The cat came back with the help of two Revelstoke landfill workers

Sunny jumped out of the truck at the landfill in November

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Join Rob Dinwoodie and bandmates for a Cowboy Christmas, Dec. 11 and 12 at Vernon and District Performing Arts Center. Seating is cabaret style on the stage for an intimate concert. (Contributed)
North Okanagan cowboys go virtual for Christmas

Cowboy Christmas streamed Dec. 11-25

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (PIxabay.com)
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Salmon Arm RCMP say some patrons have been harassing local businesses over mask requirements. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Police urge respect after Salmon Arm businesses report being harassed over mask rules

Wearing of masks in businesses and public spaces is currently mandated by the province

Salmon Arm RCMP officers attended two public COVID-19 demonstrations held in Salmon Arm on Saturday, Nov. 28.  (File photo)
Organizer of Salmon Arm COVID-19 demonstration fined $2,000 by RCMP

Police said some participants weren’t aware of the public health order prohibiting gatherings

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read