Why Are So Many Aboriginal Women Being Murdered in Canada?
In February, the frozen body of 26-year-old Loretta Saunders, a pregnant Inuit woman from Labrador, Canada, was found dumped onto a highway median in New Brunswick. Saunders, a student at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, had been writing her thesis on missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada—in a tragic twist, she became one of the subjects of her own research, the latest in what is estimated to be hundreds of murders and disappearances of indigenous Canadian women. Just this month, the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told reporters that 1,186 aboriginal women had been murdered or went missing over the past 30 years.
The sad irony of Saunders’s death shed light on a human rights issue that has been quietly brewing for years in Canada, a progressive country that is generally known for treating its citizens—including most women—well. The Canadian government doesn’t collect data on the race and ethnicity of missing persons, but a new database compiled by independent researcher Maryanne Pearce documents 4,035 cases of missing and murdered women and girls, 883—or nearly 25 percent—of which involve aboriginal women. That’s a shocking statistic, considering that aboriginal women make up just 2 percent of the population in Canada. While some of the cases date back to the 1950s, the majority took place between 1990 and 2013.
“This is part of a larger phenomenon of violence against women, period,” Pearce said. “It’s such a complicated issue. We have to look at every layer, with a special focus on systemic racism. There isn’t one answer—there isn’t one person or group who can address this. It has to be everybody—the First Nations governments, the provincial governments, the police forces, and the national government. And the Canadian public has a responsibility too.”