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

Pioneer Arena is closing for the season. Photo: John Boivin
Castlegar’s Pioneer Arena and Nelson Civic Centre closing for season

RDCK is closing the ice at two of its arenas due to financial concerns related to COVID-19

A juvenile sturgeon in a B.C. rearing facility. The wild population in the Upper Columbia is estimated at 1,100 individuals, enhanced with roughly 5,500 hatchery fish. (file photo)
B.C.’s Upper Columbia sturgeon endure long battle with local extinction

Decades of monitoring and intervention is ongoing to save the prehistoric fish

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

RCMP responded to a report early Friday morning of a suspect firing a gun at a Salmo home. Photo: Black Press
RCMP arrest woman who fired shots at Salmo home

The woman allegedly discharged a firearm early Friday morning

Summit Ski Hill had a delayed start to the season because of warm temperatures. Photo: Summit Ski Hill
Late season start frustrating for Nakusp ski hill

Summit Ski Hill only just opened Jan. 14

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Most Read