House of Commons Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women

On June 6, 2013, EVA BC Executive Director Tracy Porteous delivered a presentation to a session of the House of Commons Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women that was held in Vancouver, BC. Following is the content of that presentation:

My name is Tracy Porteous. I am the ED of EVA BC.

EVA BC, is a provincial non profit NGO in BC that works on behalf of 240 community based programs located throughout the province that respond to sexual and domestic violence, child abuse and criminal harassment.

I have been working in the field of responding to violence against women for 31 years.

I am here, not to speak for First Nations, Metis and Inuit women of course, but as an ally.

I have had the great privilege of working with many First Nations and Metis women leaders for many years – women who have been Chiefs, local, provincial and national leaders, lawyers, academics and healers – all in the context of ending violence against women, increasing safety, supporting women and their families to move forward in their lives and also working toward policy change in the many systems that affect women.

There is no doubt you are well aware of the disproportionate levels of violence experienced by First Nations, Metis and Inuit women in Canada, indeed, that is why you are here.

I don’t think I need to speak about the kinds of violence or the extent of the violence experienced because, through the many meetings, you will know that over 90% of First Nations, Metis and Inuit women have either been sexually abused as girls, gang raped as adolescents or raped and/or beaten as adults.

• Physical and sexual assault against Aboriginal women is more than three times higher than non- Aboriginal women;
• Aboriginal women report experiencing more severe and potentially life-threatening forms of physical and sexual violence (54% of Aboriginal women versus 37% of non- Aboriginal women);
• Aboriginal women are almost seven times more likely to be murdered than non- Aboriginal women. (Statistics Canada’s 2004 General Social Survey)
In BC as you know, our province has more missing and murdered Aboriginal women than anywhere else in Canada….

…..a profoundly troubling reality – this must be addressed without delay and I wish to thank you for caring enough to try to plan the way forward…

I won’t take up any time today articulating the great many volumes of research that have been created that call for more to be done to increase safety and respect for First Nations, Metis and Inuit women.

In fact, I wish to caution you very strongly against concluding these meetings with recommendations for “more reports or more studies”.

Aboriginal people have been studied perhaps more than almost any other group and the time for study on this subject is past, we need action and services.

Throughout the first decade of 2000, EVA BC, working in partnership with the Pacific Association of First Nations Women and BC Women’s Hospital – held a number of meetings bringing together First Nations and Metis women from all across the province to discuss the violence perpetrated against them and what needs to be done.

We studied the issues very carefully, we looked at all the other studies that had been done and over the course of 4 years – wrote 2 reports ourselves, the second of which is entitled “Researched to Death” and I think the title alone speaks to what many of our Aboriginal sisters believe today.

Many governments have been willing to fund studies and reports, but very few have been willing to step up and fund the long-term solutions to the problem of violence against First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and girls.

The three organizations involved concluded that the findings in all the previous reports were especially alarming given that the violence experienced by Aboriginal women is believed to exceed that of any other group of women in Canada (as said by the late Patricia Monture-Angus in 1995, (p. 170). – Yet very little has been done to address this deadly reality.

We need programs designed by First Nations, Metis and Inuit women, for First Nations, Metis and Inuit women – and anything short of that will not do.

All across BC and in fact in every province and territory in Canada, there are networks of services to respond to sexual and domestic violence.

Not all jurisdictions have enough of these services, but they exist and, they have been making changes to systems and policy and helping women heal and move on.

These services are mostly what I would call ‘mainstream anti violence services’, that is, services set up by non- Aboriginal social services agencies, women’s agencies or government.

And while many of these programs in BC have First Nations and Metis women on staff and are doing excellent work and many reach out to women on reserve – there are many women on reserve who either have no way of getting to town, who are not “able’ to engage in these services because of the coercive control their abusive partners have on them or, who don’t trust the mainstream services no matter how good and responsive they might be.

And, without getting into the history of colonization, which I am sure you all familiar with the issue of violence against Aboriginal women on and off reserve is very complex.

For many women, they want the security of confidentiality that often comes with going to town – stepping out of their community for help and therefore the existing mainstream services must have cross-cultural competency training for all staff and have First Nations, Metis and Inuit women on staff.

1) This could be a funding stream you put in place, that is, for each existing anti violence service in Canada, you provide funding for an Indigenous counsellor/advocate position.

2) But in addition, and most importantly, there should also be anti-violence services in place, run by First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and for First Nations, Metis and Inuit women in communities all across the nation – co-located on every reserve and within every Friendship Centre.

I believe it is this, one to one support and advocacy and the community education these programs would also do, that will make the difference, immediately and in the long term.

In order to break the multi generational cycle of violence, one needs help, it can’t be done alone.

The roots and causes and current attachments and harmful ways of thinking about oneself need to be unraveled for all survivors of violence. One needs a counsellor to help create new internal foundations and new world view frameworks – this is how self-esteem and empowerment is created.

These supports and services are what has been put in place for women in the mainstream and while violence against women in the general population is still at epidemic levels (which may be that more women are finally coming forward and not accepting violence in silence) at least women have help, have advocates and people working on safety plans and risk assessments and changing the systems that are not working so they will be better for the next woman that comes along.

3) There are many anti violence workers who have been doing this work for many years. Any new First Nations, Metis and Inuit services that you might fund could have the benefit from knowledge sharing provided by existing anti violence service providers. There is no need to start from scratch.

There will need to be cultural translation brought into the mix, for example, in BC alone we have 202 distinct First Nations, each with varying cultural practices and history – and, there are anti violence services in each province that have 20-30 + years of experience to offer our sisters.

First Nations, Metis and Inuit women have been clear that women’s healing cannot occur in isolation from the healing of men, children and communities – programs and funding for women’s anti-violence services must also include funds for men’s and youth services.

If we get time later I would like to tell you about “The Women of Our People”…. Canada’s only Sexual Assault Centre for First Nations women that I am proud to have been a part of building on Vancouver Island many years ago.

The solutions that will work will only come from First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and we need to empower them to act – provide them the resources they need to both heal their communities and protect women right now – today.

I won’t take up time today talking about the need for system change and better responses from our police, our prosecutors and child protection people to better meet the needs of all women who are experiencing violence – and in particular to better meet the needs of First Nations, Metis and Inuit women who continue to be let down by the very institutions responsible for protecting them – as I know that too is why you are here.

I will say though that racism is still an active toxin in our society and this remains part of the deadly ingredient responsible for much of the inaction today.

Yes we stand on a legacy of violence and racism left by the impact of colonization and residential schools but that is not just in the past – now, today, these attitudes still exist.

As a front line worker and advocate for three decades, I can testify to my witnessing that First Nations, Metis and Inuit women are treated differently, and that racism is a reality that needs to be addressed in every system.

4) Each system needs cultural competency training, and I think that work has begun, and each system needs an oversight body and needs to be accountable.

A general understanding of violence against women, for example, will not sufficiently equip responders with the knowledge and skills necessary to work with First Nations, Metis and Inuit women who have experienced violence.

Meaningful, effective training, must provide a historical context of violence against First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and people, address specific dynamics of violence and healing in First Nations, Metis and Inuit families, and actively work to undo and de-normalize colonist ways of thinking.

In addition, all of this kind of training must be led by First Nations, Metis and Inuit instructors and ideally First Nations, Metis and Inuit women whenever possible.

5) We need transparency from our systems. We need to have them document the cultural identities of who they are serving so we can know who they are not serving.

We need access to statistics – number of police reports, number of charges laid, number of cases prosecuted. We don’t have access to this anymore. How are we to make good public policy without this information?

If we have time later I would like to tell you about some research we are undertaking related to women victims who are being arrested by police. This has important implications for First Nations, Metis and Inuit women. But back to what we can do. We have conceived of what we believe would be a worthy undertaking.

The demographic of most of the anti violence services across Canada is largely non- Aboriginal. So if we want more First Nations, Metis and Inuit women to access main stream services and we want to set up First Nations, Metis and Inuit services we will need more First Nations, Metis and Inuit women trained to be advocates and counselors and support people.

6) We would like to suggest you support the development of a college and/or university “violence against women diploma program” and target the delivery of this program to colleges that have a high population of First Nations, Metis and Inuit students.

We believe in a very short time frame – from the development of this diploma course to having graduates seeking employment – we can:

1) Substantially enhance and make more diverse, the demographic of workers in the social services and anti violence sectors,
2) Increase employment opportunities for Aboriginal women
3) Create capacity to respond to violence within the communities by having more trained First Nations, Metis and Inuit women workers
4) Attend to the crisis of recruitment of anti violence and social service workers in rural areas
5) Attend to the problem of cuts to post employment training that has sweep BC.

In addition – like nurses and police, the age demographic of much of the anti violence field is old – like me – and we must attend to succession planning because soon there will be few workers with long term experience left to pass on. What better way to fill these jobs than with bright, young, First Nations, Metis and Inuit women!!

7) To end, EVA BC is running two highly successful programs that I hope you will ask me about. One is run by a well known First Nations woman leader, Bev Jacobs (and I hope you will also be speaking to her) who is engaging First Nations and Metis leaders at the community level in BC such as Chiefs and Council, Band and Friendship Centre Directors and others, towards building knowledge related to sexual and domestic violence and creating community safety plans.

The other is a partnership with the BC Lions Football club. Among our player spokesmen, is a First Nations player named JR Larose who has been resonating very powerfully with First Nations communities across BC.

The Government of Canada has already announced a commitment of $ Millions to assist with increasing the safety of First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and we support this.

What we must ensure is that there are funds for ongoing services and infrastructures and not just project funding.

The issue of safety and security of women in BC and indeed across Canada has never been more important and visible.

We believe that concrete action, not more reports is needed to more adequately address the human rights, life safety and liberty of First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and children in Canada.

Article 22 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides that:

I. Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities in the implementation of this Declaration; and

II. States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.