From 2005-2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) were funded by the federal government to compile research for a database on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. When the research project known as ‘Sisters in Spirit’ (SIS) started to produce alarming numbers of missing and murdered women, their funding was abruptly cut off. In 2010, NWAC had evidence of 582 Indigenous women and girls in Canada who were either murdered or have gone missing in the past 30 years.
After their funding was cut, NWAC was forced to shut down their database. Having been funded by the federal government, they were also forced to hand over their database to the RCMP, who scrutinized their findings and questioned NWAC as to the authenticity of the names listed in the database, claiming a lot of the victims were not Indigenous. But on the contrary, in collecting their data, research members worked directly with the families of the victims and also with First Nations communities and organizations.
Last April, two groups decided to come together and share their ideas as how to start another database: one that would be accessible to the public and community-driven as well. Two grassroots organizations, No More Silence and Families of Sisters in Spirit partnered together to spearhead a community run database for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. This database was launched in September.
Audrey Huntley of No More Silence is one of the women working on the database. When asked why another database is being done when NWAC already did one, Huntley responded, “Because that work was stopped when their funding was cut and the data given to the RCMP but also because NWAC never made it accessible to the community.”
When asked how they are going about collecting their data, Huntley stated that No More Silence along with Families of Sisters in Spirit are working directly with families of victims. They have also been asked to broaden their definition of who to include in the database, apart from ‘Missing’ and ‘Murdered’. The new database will also include: transgender, Two-Spirited and any woman or girl that has died a ‘premature’ and violent death, such as suicide and deaths that were deemed ‘accidental’ by police investigations.
Huntley also said the purpose of the database is, “to honour our women and provide family members with a way to document their loved ones passing while asserting community control of our own record-keeping. The database will document Indigenous women, Two-Spirit and Trans people who have gone missing, or died as a result of violence. This includes murder, manslaughter, ‘accidental’ and suicide as well as deaths which families and communities have deemed suspicious and are unsolved or for whom answers or justice have yet to be found.”
Colleen Cardinal, who is Plains Cree from Saddle Lake, Alberta has seen much violence throughout her life. Her family has experienced first-hand: the residential school system, the 60’s Scoop era and the violent murders of her sister and sister-in-law.
Cardinal currently resides on unceded Algonquin Territory (known as Ottawa) and is a member of Families of Sisters in Spirit and is helping to spearhead this database. Speaking on the purpose of this database, Cardinal explains, “A database would really put into perspective just the sheer amount of murdered/missing Indigenous women/Two-Spirit people in Canada. The numbers that have been thrown around range from 600 and up to 4000, but we don’t really know the numbers (that is why we are doing this database). What we do know is that it is not safe to be an Indigenous woman or Two Spirit person in Canada.
The database is a reflection of how colonization and racist policy against Indigenous people is killing us, but also how the epidemic and alarming rates at which our people are being killed without any concern by the Federal Government of Canada. We aren’t relying on institutions and policy makers to manage our databases anymore, we know our stories and we can collect our own data without bias.”
Cardinal also feels that sharing her story is healing, empowering and sometimes hard but bringing a story and making a human connection to the murdered and missing is so important.
Once the database is complete it will be accessible to the public on a website. As Indigenous women and girls continue to go missing and continue to die violent deaths, the database will be continuously updated. People are encouraged to contact No More Silence or Families of Sisters in Spirit if they want to add a name along with information to this database.