TORONTO – Over the past four months the city of Toronto has seen the ‘mysterious’ deaths of three young native women- mysterious mainly because the police are barely investigating the cases.
While there is an excess of police in Black and minority areas to harass local residents, the deaths of young indigenous women don’t seem to be a priority for Toronto Police On July 20th, 2013, Bella Laboucan McLean, a 25-year old woman from Sturgeon Lake Cree First Nation, was found dead.
She had fallen 31-storeys from a Queens Quay condo. Police believe that there were six witnesses present at the time of Laboucan-McLean’s death, yet no one has come forward with any information as to what occurred.
Last May 14, a passing train near Yonge Street and Summerhill Avenue killed Terra Gardner, age 26. Terra had been compelled to testify in a murder investigation and had been allegedly receiving death threats leading up to her death. At this time police have ruled out foul play. Terra was from Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation.
Cheyenne Fox, a 20-year old member of the loon dodem from Sheguiandah First Nation died in April 2013 after falling from a 24-storey condo in Don Mills.
Toronto police told Cheyenne’s father, John Fox, within hours that it was a suicide. Cheyenne comes from a very politically active family and her father is an organizer with Idle No More, and police have ignored requests for an inquest into her death. Since the deaths of these three young women a number of public rallies and memorial ceremonies have been held in their honor.
On June 1st, the Aboriginal Day of Action the Grass Roots Committee-Ontario organized an event outside Toronto Police Headquarters calling for accountability and demanding further investigation into the “alleged” suicide of Fox and the “mysterious” death of Gardner. Members and allies of No More Silence, a network that seeks to support the work being done to stop the murders and disappearances of indigenous women, gathered on July 28 at 21 Iceboat Terrace to light candles and set down tobacco in a spirit release ceremony for Laboucan-McLean.
According to the organization Sisters in Spirit, there have been more than 582 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada over the past 30-years. Aboriginal women and girls are three times more likely to experience violence than any other population in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Additionally, First Nations women are five to seven times more likely to die from these acts of violence, states
On Wednesday July 24, at Niagara-On-The-Lake Canadian premiers and territorial leaders called for an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The following day the federal Conservatives dismissed the calls for a national and public inquiry.
At a conference held on April 29, 2013 in Toronto entitled “Violence No More” with the families of Sisters in Spirit, anti-violence and indigenous rights activist Andrea Smith stated, “We should not be surprised that there is total government inaction around the missing women in Canada because the system is founded on the disappearances of native women and it continues to benefit from their disappearances.” The police, through non-investigation make themselves complicit in the unsolved cases that have been recorded over the past 30-years.
Violence against indigenous women is part of the ongoing colonial project. Power relations of domination and hierarchy structure the colonial process and patriarchy – male domination- is very much a part of this. The subordination of women, in particularly indigenous women, stems from settler-colonial oppression. Native women’s bodies become the object of conquer and are deemed as objects of rape and domination.
Settler-colonial structures create the false power dynamic that Aboriginal bodies are somehow other, thus undeserving of integrity by extension of expansionist pursuits that renders indigenous lands invadable and indigenous resources extractable.At the April 29 event, Andrea Smith asserts that “we must rethink how we do our anti-violence organizing – do we think the state will be the solution to the problem that created and continues to benefit from the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women”. Smith urges that, “we need to challenge the state, rather than accept the state as a solution to the problem of gender violence”.
Furthermore, Smith argues that the just solutions will come from the development of grassroots community based approaches to governance, rather than from the state. She questions as to why we have no other options in cases of violence against women, but to call the police. Smith asks as to whether we want to continue to support the prison industrial complex that is based on domination and is an extension of the settler-colonial nation state. At the April 29 event Smith encourages attendees to be creative and no longer accept that the “settler state is actual and inevitable and that there is no
other way we can govern ourselves.”
By Nicole Oliver, BASICS Community News Service