Canada to Indigenous women: ‘Our systems have failed you’

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau promises resources to address violence against Indigenous women, but some want concrete action.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian government promise actions to address the treatment of Indigenous women [File: Blair Gable /Reuters]

The Canadian government said on Thursday it would direct more resources to First Nations police and address systemic racism in the justice system and law enforcement to tackle violence against Indigenous women, but gave no time frame for achieving its “transformative changes.”

The government promised to give Indigenous communities more control over some social services and improve access to healthcare. Its plan comes two years after a report into the deaths of more than 1,000 Indigenous women and girls in recent decades called it a national genocide.

The government said it would address systemic racism among the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the national law enforcement agency responsible for policing many rural areas in the country, through improved recruitment and training.

“Plans are great, but what we need is action,” said Denise Pictou-Maloney, co-chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle, which played an advisory role on the plan. She said she would like to see some change within a year, and an accountability mechanism ensuring actions are taken.

The plan came out as the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school shocked and reminded the nation of the abuse of Indigenous people.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015 determined that Canada had committed “cultural genocide” by forcing more than 150,000 Indigenous children to attend residential schools across the country between the 1870s and 1990s.

The residential school system intended to assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian society and eliminate what state officials at the time described as an “Indian problem”; children were forcibly separated from their parents and siblings, beaten for speaking their Indigenous languages, and suffered rampant malnutrition, physical violence, forced labour and sexual abuse.

The Canadian government on Thursday also promised immediate action to address anti-indigenous racism in the healthcare system. The need for such action was underscored by hearings that ended this week into the death of Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Indigenous mother of seven who died in a Quebec hospital after being ridiculed by staff and, the inquest heard, neglected.

“Your voices have made it clear how our systems have failed you,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the event Thursday.

The government said it would provide annual status updates on its progress but had no time frame for achieving its goals. The federal government’s 2021 budget included $1.8bn ($2.2bn Canadian) over five years to foster health systems free from racism and improve access to justice for Indigenous people, among other goals.

Lynne Groulx, chief executive of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said the announcement was not concrete enough.

“It’s a plan to have a plan in the future.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies