The Social Construction of Cultural Genocide
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Community
A cultural massacre has been occurring in North America for the past few decades.
Two years ago, the government turned to the public for recommendations and received hundreds on rectifying the issue.
Ask, and you will receive.
Yet, just two weeks ago, during the annual vigil to commemorate the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people, we were reminded of just how little has actually changed.
In September of 2016, when the Trudeau government came into power, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was created — a completed $92 million project.
The inquiry’s final report was given to the federal government at the closing ceremony on June 3, 2019, at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec.
The report, titled Reclaiming Power and Place, is 1200 pages long, containing 231 calls for justice.
As per Marion Buller, the Chief Commissioner of the inquiry, these calls are “legal imperatives” that will “transform systematic and societal values that have…maintain[ed] colonial violence” against Indigenous Women, Girls and the 2SLGBTQQIA community.
Let’s double-tap for a second here. What societal values have perpetuated this violence? What does that even mean?
The short answer: a lack of sociological imagination.
Charles Wright Mills created the term “sociological imagination” and explained that the challenge of sociology as a subject is to connect how society works and how it works in terms of people’s personal lives.
Henry Giroux, however, was the one to point out what happens when we lack this ability to connect the individual to society. The most significant and relevant consequence is that social issues begin being treated as private problems.
Without the social imagination, we remove the link of these “private problems” to their macro forces which inhabit society.
This makes the suffering of individuals seem personalized. It figuratively removes the onus of remedying the situation from the greater good and firmly places the burden on the shoulders of those already suffering and in need of help.
It creates dialogue like, “Oh, that’s not my problem” and “Why don’t they dig themselves out of their own hole?” which only sustains the issue.
Put plainly, it is a vicious circle that is entirely unfair and immoral.
Fortunately, ‘Reclaiming Power and Peace’ draws from over 2000 Canadian testimonies, rallying as much of the majority’s support as possible.
The report calls for equal official language status of Indigenous languages to French and English and suggests actions that the government must take to remedy the situation.
It also states that indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be violently targeted than any other demographic member in Canada.
Statistics Canada states that the victimized women made up 25% of all female homicide victims between 2001 and 2015. Some of the highlighted suggestions made include handling homicides involving domestic abuse as murder in the first degree.
They also ask that the Gladue Principles be considered. These principles, a part of the Criminal Code, state that judges must consider any historical or cultural context of Indigenous offenders when sentencing.
This refers to the long-term effects of total institutions.
Erving Goffman, a pioneer in micro-sociology (the study of motivations and actions of specific individuals or groups), examined total institutions.
These are institutions where people are bureaucratically processed, physically isolated from their normal activities, and are required to sleep, work, and play at specific intervals within the confines of the same place.
Ring any bells?
The residential schools that plague the history of many Indigenous communities are prime examples of total institutions. The Gladue Principles refer to the sordid history here to remind determiners of the cultural damage that was once done.
Primary socialization develops a sense of self.
Socialization is a learning process that develops one’s sense of self. For young Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people, the effects of total institutions on their community ultimately disrupt the likelihood of a safe childhood.
Taking a cultural determinist standpoint, lack of change often signifies a lack of importance. Conflict theory will support that social unrest or a lack of social arrangement will lead to reform or change.
If the behaviour of murdering and raping the MMIWG is not considered a conflict and is not brought to attention, the situation will not change.
This is why it is so important that the first line of the report’s preface states “This report is about deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide.” The report also states that “the ongoing violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada amounts to genocide.”
However, Trudeau is reluctant to identify the national crisis as such. Subsequently, a supplementary report is being made on genocide as it is legally defined.
At the closing ceremony on June 3, 2019, Seamus O’Regan, the Minister of Indigenous Services, responded to the report by saying that
“[the government’s] job now is to develop a national action plan to implement the recommendations in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Metis governments and organizations.” The issue is not a new one.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) began formulating a database in 2005 of cases, and they published a report containing 582 missing and murdered Indigenous Women as part of the Sisters in Spirit Initiative in 2010. The RCMP’s 2014 estimate named 1200 cases between 1980 and 2012.
Over 4000 Indigenous women have gone missing or have been murdered in the last few decades. Currently, FILUs, or Family Information Liaison Units, have been established to aid families in accessing information about missing friends or family. In correlation with this initiative, a toll-free, 24/7 crisis line is in place Canada-wide.
The report’s suggestions target all citizens in Canada. The recommendations address Indigenous rights and security and suggest changes that should be made within industries, Correctional Service Canada and civil services like media or healthcare.
So, what’s actually changed?
Not enough. What is just as, if not more, important than identifying social inequities and injustices, is activating change. It’s seeing things through beyond a recommendation.
I have been following the development of the MMIWG for several years now. As mentioned earlier, in February of 2021, an annual vigil was held in commemoration.
According to Jessica Quijano, the co-ordinator for the Iskweu Project at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, the hundreds of recommendations from the inquiry and commission have not been put in place:
“I’m very, very angry, actually, because it’s the same thing I was saying last year,” she said. “This isn’t about not having solutions, this is about a lack of political will. I think people are behind us. What is it going to take to change? That’s what I’m asking.”
The pandemic has actually heightened the risk for Indigenous women — especially those experiencing homelessness or sickness. The recent case of Joyce Echaquan was a stark reminder of how poorly Indigenous people can be treated in their provincial institutions.
According to a piece by CBC, Joyce, an Atikamekw mother of seven, “died last September shortly after filming staff at Joliette hospital hurling insults at her.”
In response to some of these calls for action, a representative of the Quebec Ministry of Indigenous Affairs said:
“We have a lot of documentation. It’s time to act. We cannot act alone. There is still lots of work to be done, but we are in the right direction. All of those actions have to be developed with our Indigenous partners, in collaboration with First Nations and Inuit.”
What can the average citizen do? Hold these Ministries accountable.
We must unlearn.
This national crisis is a prevalent social issue. A perfect storm of lack of representation in government and power, political insensitivity towards minority groups, social nonacceptance and sluggish political processes towards improvement, have all contributed to making the issue worse rather than attempting to remedy it.
We must collectively question what is considered “normal.”
The social construction of issues refers to the development of understandings of the world based on shared assumptions about reality.
How do we move the dial on social issues like these?
- By getting on the same page of what the reality is for those experiencing the worst of it.
- By questioning the things we see in the media and especially the things we don’t. Taking agency.
- By redefining what is acceptable and normal.
If our community’s “normal” currently means a lack of guaranteed safety for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, or sexuality, that’s not a community we should want to support.
It is one we must take responsibility for to change.