FILE – An eagle feather is held up during a rally for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 4, 2016. With reports of a sharp rise in violence against Indigenous women as COVID-19 restrictions keep families stuck in their homes, concerns are being raised about whether the pandemic could delay the promised June delivery of a national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

FILE – An eagle feather is held up during a rally for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 4, 2016. With reports of a sharp rise in violence against Indigenous women as COVID-19 restrictions keep families stuck in their homes, concerns are being raised about whether the pandemic could delay the promised June delivery of a national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Violence against Indigenous women during COVID-19 sparks calls for MMIWG plan

One in five Indigenous woman told survey takers they’d experience violence in past three months

With reports of a sharp rise in violence against Indigenous women as COVID-19 restrictions keep families stuck in their homes, concerns are being raised about whether the pandemic could delay the promised June delivery of a national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has been conducting a series of nation-wide, grassroots consultations with their local member offices and with Indigenous women to determine how COVID-19 has been affecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis women in Canada.

The preliminary results reveal a deeply concerning spike in the number of Indigenous women who say they are facing more violent incidents since the pandemic began, often by an intimate partner.

A survey of more than 250 Indigenous women found one in five reporting they’ve been a victim of physical or psychological violence over the past three months.

Also, the preliminary results of this survey and two additional consultations suggest more of these women are concerned about domestic violence in the midst of this pandemic than they are about the virus.

Native Women’s Association President Lorraine Whitman says she finds the numbers “shocking” and is deeply concerned about the safety of Indigenous women in Canada, as public health officials continue to ask people to remain in their homes.

“We know in a perfect world staying at home is a safe place, but it isn’t a perfect world and it isn’t a safe place for some of our women and families,” Whitman said.

“With the social distancing and self-isolation, women have had to stay in a home in a confined area with their abuser or perpetrator and they cannot escape. There’s nowhere where they can go.”

The federal government did commit $40 million in funding to Women and Gender Equality Canada, with up to $30 million earmarked for the “immediate needs” of shelters and sexual assault centres. Another $10 million was provided to Indigenous Services Canada’s existing network of 46 emergency shelters on reserve and in Yukon to support Indigenous women and children fleeing violence.

But Whitman says many shelters and sexual assault centres in the country are not run for or by Indigenous people, which is why many First Nations, Inuit and Metis women won’t access them, even if they’re in trouble.

“They don’t have that comfort zone there and they’re not culturally influenced or inclusive of the Indigenous values that we have and our traditions and ceremonies.”

Even before the pandemic began, Indigenous women in Canada were facing higher levels of violence and abuse — a stark reality laid bare in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The situation has been made worse by the arrival of COVID-19 in Canada, Whitman said.

That’s why, earlier this week, the Native Women’s Association held a virtual roundtable with Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and International Development Minister Karina Gould urging the federal government to implement a national plan for meeting the inquiry’s 231 “calls for justice.”

The urgency has been heightened by the global pandemic crisis, Whitman said.

“We need to have some action. The families of the missing and murdered women and girls and two-spirited (individuals), we’re tired of talk. If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. And I’m not seeing that.”

READ MORE: Easing COVID-19 restrictions too soon could jeopardize vulnerable communities

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said in December the federal government would release its national action plan to respond to the inquiry’s findings in June of this year, which would mark the one-year anniversary of the release of the calls for justice.

In Ottawa on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said work on this national response to the inquiry’s work has been ongoing and that this work is “more important than it has ever been.”

“This government has worked from the beginning to give more support to shelters and organizations and networks that are supporting victims of family violence or gender-based violence. We will continue to do that work,” he said.

“We will continue to work very hard on that national action plan coming from the missing and murdered inquiry. This is a priority that continues and is even intensified because of this crisis.”

Michele Audette, who worked as a commissioner on the MMIWG inquiry, says she believes work on the national action plan — which she says must also include commitments from the provinces and territories — has been delayed by several events over the last year, including the election.

However, she believes even if an action plan had already been in place before the pandemic began, she’s not convinced it would have changed the sad realities now being faced by Indigenous women experiencing increased incidents of violence.

“I don’t know if we would see a change right away because it’s rooted so deeply in the culture, the colonial system,” Audette said.

“Because we are facing the impact of colonialism, we are not a top priority and we can see it with COVID right now.”

She stressed the need for all levels of government — federal, provincial, municipal and Indigenous — to ensure shelters, social workers and first responders who serve Indigenous populations are well supported so they can respond to issues of violence against women.

NDP MP Leah Gazan says the Liberal government has failed to adequately respond to the MMIWG inquiry’s work.

“With the increasing rate of violence, which has occurred during COVID, we are now in an even worse crisis,” she said.

“We need to move swiftly. This is a life and death situation.”

READ MORE: ‘Go back to the old way:’ First Nations return to land during COVID-19 pandemic

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Google Maps screenshot taken at 7:30 a.m.
TRAFFIC: Westbound Highway 1 crash blocking left lane in Langley

Incident at 264th Street slowing morning commuters

Elias Pettersson and the Vancouver Canucks drew a large crowd to the Abbotsford Centre in 2019. Canucks management hopes the crowds return for the planned AHL team this fall, and early returns are positive. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Canucks: ‘Incredible’ early interest for Abbotsford AHL tickets

Team has had a strong response to both e-mail information and priority ticket lists

Red dot shows location where fisherman was rescued by boater on Friday, May 7, 2021. Other fisher still missing presumed drowned after boat swamped on Fraser River near Vedder/Sumas confluence. Rescued man swam to shore after boat sank, while friend is still classified as missing as of May 10. (City of Chilliwack map)
Fisherman still missing after boat flipped on the Fraser River

One man made it out, other still missing, after anchor got snagged in the Fraser near Chilliwack

Corina Rochon has been working the front lines of the pandemic in the intensive care unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. She is also an instructor in the nursing program at University of the Fraser Valley.
Pandemic the most challenging of Abbotsford nurse’s 16-year career

Corina Rochon works front lines at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Joan Septembre went for a weekend hike at Lindeman Lake, parking next to a vehicle that had two windows smashed in. (submitted photo)
Thieves active at Lindeman Lake and other parking spots along Chilliwack Lake Road

The hiking community is lamenting an uptick in car theft and vandalism as the weather gets nicer

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald pauses while speaking during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘We will do everything we can,’ B.C. police say to reassure public amid gang violence

Active officers in the Lower Mainland, including those from the Integrated Homicide Investigations Team, are being recruited to an ‘inactive potential future police service’

Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about phase two in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
All of B.C. will eventually ease out of COVID-19 restrictions at same time: Henry

People who have received two doses of a vaccine can’t yet return to post-pandemic activities with each other, she says

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

A map of Huu-ay-aht-owned forestry cutblock. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
B.C. First Nations restrict access to territory in wake of forestry standoffs

Huu-ay-aht set up checkpoints after heated and dangerous incidents on southwest Vancouver Island

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add 6 seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read