Domestic violence can be defined as the use of physical abuse in an intimate relationship including emotional psychological and sexual abuse (Bopp, et al., 2006). Over the past few decades, the issue of domestic violence has become more prominent in our society. This issue within the Aboriginal community has been increasing more rapidly than ever imaginable, but is going unnoticed by individuals outside of their culture. Though Indigenous people are seen as an importance to the Canadian history of our land, Canada has turned a blind eye to the issues of violence against women.
If there could be a starting point placed on the history of violence against Aboriginal women it would be the start of colonization. Colonization refers to the process of encroachment and subsequent subjection of Aboriginal Peoples since the arrival of the Europeans (LaRocque, 2009). The European people came to Canada in search of new land, and they chose to take advantage of the Aboriginal People they found on the land in order to achieve domination. Before Europeans came to Aboriginal lands, the culture of the Aboriginal Peoples’ was much different, as women played the roles of advisers and respected community members. This was completely altered after the Europeans forced their own male dominated hierarchical system on the peoples and gave the men the authority and social standing (Bourassa and Kubik, 2006). With the alteration of Aboriginal communities from matriarchal or semi-matriarchal to completely patriarchal, the male roles of hunter, provider, and protector were completely lost causing role conflicts, frustration and anger. In turn, men were beginning to find the outlet for violence against women by their husbands. Women who had originally been given the power were suddenly helpless and vulnerable to their husbands who were undergoing their own culture shock. The white intrusion on Aboriginal lands caused the matriarchal character of Aboriginal spiritual, economic, kinship, and political institutions to be drastically altered (LaRocque, 2009). Families were being left with no hope but to follow the forced rules of the Europeans, who were encouraging the violence against women.
When the European Colonizers began to settle in the Aboriginal areas, they began to marry the Indigenous women and start families, but would then go back to Europe and settle with other women at the same time. Aboriginal women were used through the European man as recreation while on their lands. When an Aboriginal woman would marry a non-aboriginal man, she would be completely stricken of her Aboriginal status. This idea was completely flipped when non-aboriginal women began to come to Canada, and the Aboriginal communities encouraged their men to go out and marry non-aboriginal women to add diversity and new culture to their communities (Bourassa and Kubik, 2006). Not only were Aboriginal women then banned from their communities and left with no Indian status, their European husbands would often leave to go back to Europe. This showed the women that their status was as of less importance than Aboriginal men’s and began the slope into the completely damaging portrayal of Aboriginal Women.
As the Aboriginal peoples lost their culture, language, and often pride due to colonization, their communities were left powerless. As the Aboriginal Peoples were oppressed and disempowered by the racist policies and attitudes of the British colonizers, they were led into alienation, depression, and feelings of rage and anger (Bourassa and Kubik, 2006). As the women’s cherished roles were taking over and men powered the society, the men began to feel overpowering. In order to prove their gained power over women, and to show the European colonizers they weren’t powerless by loss of their culture and language, the men started to gain power and control through the abuse of their wives. The men began to feel provoked by the loss of power their wives were experiencing. Through this vicious cycle, the men have been able to take full control over their wives and continue to abuse them even though the settlers had left their areas and settled elsewhere. The culture of the European settlers had stuck with the Indigenous peoples and began to become a part of their own culture. The colonization lead to culture shock, but when Aboriginal peoples were allowed to go back to their traditional way of life, they were forced to try and forget their terrible pasts. This lead to alcohol and substance abuse to help cope or block out the pain they had experienced over the years. Aggression and anger began to resurface as a result, bringing back the violent pasts that they tried to forget about (Danforth, Horton et al, 2010). After the horrid experiences the Indigenous people had to go through during colonization, they have been unable to forget what they have been taught and return to the collaborative community they once were, leaving violence as a part of their culture.
As a direct result of colonization, the dehumanizing stereotypical ways of the European men were introduced, which broke women down even more into a vulnerable state. They enforced their own stereotypes to dehumanize the Aboriginal women that overall encouraged physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. The image of the Indian princess gave way to that of the promiscuous “squaw” which renders Indigenous women vulnerable to violence and mistreatment, and vindicates their violators (Health Agency, 2008). This image enforced by European men was detrimental to women, and left them helpless against the men who believed this story to be true. Aboriginal women were seen as inferior and were referred to as disposable humans who were not seen as worthy of respect. Subjecting Indigenous women to such low terms was a complete alteration from the respected, loved, and admired women they were once seen as. The women were being completely degraded of their roles and responsibilities within the society, making them increasingly vulnerable (Native Women’s, 2008). Women were completely stripped of their roles in government and spiritual gatherings, and were seen as child bearers and nothing else. Women started to have a different attitude towards their marriages, and believed that being with a man was a privileged (Bopp et al., 2007). When speaking with one of the women at the Native Women’s Shelter in Downtown about what she believed made Indigenous women so much more vulnerable and what caused the communities to be indifferent, she explained, “I don’t think the communities are ‘indifferent’. It’s more of a learned helplessness”. These women are being taught to do nothing; they’re being taught to accept the fact that there’s no sense in fighting back. With the racist and sexist stereotypes becoming worse and the lack of fight from the Indigenous women, they’re being denied their dignity and worth and are encouraging men to feel they can get away with acts of hatred against them (Cardinal, 2006). Women won’t be able to get out of this state of hopelessness if they’re not helped. The Canadian government needs to step in and assist these women in realizing they still have worth and do not need to continue living the way of life they are.
When women and families are faced with hard times such as poverty, it makes it harder for women in an abusive relationship to leave, especially for Indigenous women. In 2000, 36% of women in Aboriginal communities were living below the poverty line and were making on average seven thousand dollars less annually than non aboriginal women (Public Service, 2008). With this drastic difference, women are being left no choice but to stay around for support. It’s very difficult to survive on an annual income of roughly only $13,000, especially when children are involved. The environment that is filled with poverty within the Aboriginal communities has had a direct effect of the family structure. When poverty and unemployment rates worsen, wellness levels go down and family violence rates go up (Bopp et al., 2007). When individuals are unemployed and left with nothing, feelings of anger, frustration and unhappiness start to arise, along with the levels of tension within the household rise. When a family is so focused on where they’re going to find their next meal and not on protecting and loving each other, feelings are bound to build up. With these frustrating feelings, the men have adapted the natural instincts to take their aggression out on their wives. In a survey done on Indigenous families, families struggling with poverty described their situations using words such as “low self esteem, depression, anger, self-doubt, frustration, shame, and hopelessness” (Cardinal, 2006). When having such negative thoughts and outlooks on their household situation, their attitudes and behaviours towards the family are going to reflect their thoughts; negative thoughts will result in negative behaviours. The economic insecurity within the household can cause disputes over finances and how to deal with poverty (Health Agency of Canada, 2008). The disputes can easily become heated and result in the violence towards wives.
Poverty resulting in violence doesn’t always come from the vulnerability of women, but can also arise from the struggles that men face. When poverty makes it difficult for some men to hold a job, they feel useless and unable to support their families. Men in a position have the tendency to try and take advantage of women who may be fortunate enough to be holding a secure job (Health Agency of Canada, 2008). Because women are taught to be nurturers and love their families, they usually allow themselves to be taken advantage of without even realizing the outcome. Before they know it, the men have full control of the finances, family, and the women. These women are being targeted due to their sex and Aboriginal identity because they are known to have a low status. For a woman, as stated earlier, it is seen as a privileged for a man to take you in even if you are the one supporting the family for the time being. For the women who cannot support themselves, they are stuck to stick with their violent husbands and continue the disputes over finances and poverty. For the women who can support themselves, they are left supporting others through their nurturance ways and have to accept the fact that they’re worth nothing without a man. Either way, Aboriginal women are stuck with no support with realizing they do not need a man to survive, and poverty only seems to make this idea even harder to comprehend.
The negative experiences an individual goes through during childhood can stick with them for the rest of their lives. When young children are taught certain ideas, in this case disciplinary acts, those ideas will carry with them into adult life and will affect them in the same way they experienced as a child. For Aboriginal communities, their tortuous experiences were displayed through the children’s placement in residential schools and are now being reflected in a generation of poor parenting and violence (Health Agency of Canada, 2008). In the government’s attempt to involve Indigenous children into Canadian culture, children were forced to learn in off reserve residential schools where they were punished for speaking their own language or practising their culture, and were subjected to inhuman living conditions like dirt school floors and mould (Cardinal, 2006). The Indigenous children were constantly objected to physical and even sexual abuse, and the men were taught to use violence, abuse and molestation to solve problems. When young children are exposed to such behaviour, they are going to take these ideas and believe they are the proper ways to handle situations (Danforth, Horton et al., 2010). When speaking with one of the women at the Native Women’s Shelter, she mentioned “If you come from a place where nobody ever said I love you and so you never learn to express it and you just mimic the disciplinarian attitude you grew up with, including physical punishment, it would be natural for you to bring that into the family environment where it’s just not appropriate”. It is clear to see a ripple effect occurring in the family structure and parenting skills. The men who are now fathers and husbands were previously beaten, molested, and discriminated against. The fact is the parents today in Aboriginal communities are the ones who have experienced life in residential schools. Now that they have been allowed to come back into their own social environment to raise their families, their past experiences will still be with them, and those disciplinary tactics will resurface and become present in the household. Just because they have left the scene of the crime doesn’t mean they can psychologically check out what they heard, saw, and felt in the residential schools.
Ms. Daly, a teacher at Dunbarton High School spent two years throughout the sixties working at Long Sault Residential School around Cornwall. She described the school as having dirt floors, all supplies being second hand, and the majority of the children had ringworm from being barefoot in the dirt all day. She also shared witnessing the students being constantly verbally and physically abused, with consistent and demeaning phrases, and even described the experiences as tormenting the children. This was all going on around the 1960’s-1970. Today, these children would be between the ages of thirty to forty five. At this time in today’s society these individuals would be raising a family. Their experiences can be traced back into the family household today, and can be partially to blame for the violence against women and children. When asked why she chose to leave the school, she said she could not stand to look at the kids anymore knowing she couldn’t change the system.
Mr. Shannon, another Dunbarton High School teacher, worked for two years in a high school that was half Aboriginal students and half Caucasian students. He described the school as being very discriminatory towards Aboriginal students, with designated washrooms for the different races. The teachers were not marked on their ability to teach, they were marked on how many students would show up to class. The teacher’s were not focused on the education of the students; they just wanted to get paid. With these Aboriginal children already being taken out of their comfort zone to then come to a place of complete discrimination and alienation, the students are going to have no motivation to succeed and are simply going to feel unwanted. The alienation from the aboriginal culture could embed fear into the students, which could ultimately lead to anger when thrown back into a culture shock of the Aboriginal community. When asked why he chose to leave the school, Mr Shannon agreed with Ms Daily in stating he chose to leave because he could not continue to watch how the system treated the students. When students go to school, they expect to simply learn, not be tormented, abused, and feel unwanted. Because of the actions of the teachers, the students, and the lack of support within the schools, the anger and abuse carried throughout the children’s school experiences are now carried back into the Aboriginal community, where they are thriving, and nothing is being done to solve this problem.
In a society filled with such scrutiny, judgement and lack of openness to others, Indigenous women and communities face one of the highest rates of discrimination in Canada (Brzozowski, Johnson, et al., n.d.). The Canadian government is not giving Aboriginal communities the proper funding they need to eliminate poverty, because they are a community of Aboriginal peoples. When speaking with Candice Newman, one of the women who works at the Native Women’s Shelter downtown, she explained the idea of “us” versus “them”. The Canadian government sees Aboriginal communities as a whole other world and does not treat Indigenous people with the same respect as other individuals in Canada, giving Indigenous peoples the name “them”. When looking where money is needed from the Canadian government, they focus on “us” or the non-aboriginal areas that are in poverty before looking towards the Aboriginal communities. With money so tight in today’s economy, it is nearly impossible for funding to be reached out to the Aboriginal communities, leaving them in poverty to suffer. As stated earlier, poverty leads to all sorts of problems within the family, including depression, anger, and frustration, all factors that lead to violence within the family. The government needs to realize Indigenous People are just as desperate for money as any other culture, but the difference between Aboriginal communities and other communities is the fact that Aboriginals need the money now, and they have been waiting too long; they deserve to eliminate poverty and live happier lives.
With the lack of funding being given to Aboriginal communities, there have become amounts of alcohol abuse and crime in the areas. These crime rates, though hardly any different than those of any other community, have caused an explosion of discriminatory actions towards the women of the communities. Women are being denied the adequate protection of the police and justice system just because they are Indigenous women (Cardinal, 2006). Not only are the women being left unprotected, but the men are being over-policed and thrown in jail for reasons incomparable to other issues in the communities. Aboriginal men are being arrested for pity cases, such as not showing up for court for demeanour charges, when the focus should be on locking up the abusers. Not only are these men being arrested for pity charges, but Aboriginal men who are accused are more likely to be denied bail and twice as likely to be incarcerated for such crimes as non Aboriginal men (World Backgrounder, 2006). The men who are committing crimes of domestic violence are simply being let off with little to no consequences because they are not the focus of the law, as the protection of the women are not of importance. Women are being left feeling useless, unprotected, and unloved, and even if they wanted to leave their violent homes, they do not feel as though they would have anywhere to go because they are Indigenous women.
When living in an environment that constantly tells these women they are worth nothing for so long, the women will eventually begin to believe it, especially when they are seeing other women in their community being murdered and going missing with nothing being done to help them. Betty Osborne was a 19 year old Cree student who was abducted, sexually assaulted, and brutally murdered by four men on November 12th, 1971. When her case was taken to court, the Manitoba Justice had this to say: “There is one fundamental fact: her murder was a racist and sexist act. Betty Osborne would be alive today had she not been an Aboriginal Women” (Cardinal, 2006). The four men were never found of convicted of the murder they committed. With the Justice System to be aware the soul problem is the discriminatory attack on Indigenous women and not do anything to stop it proves these women’s lives are being taken for granted. With young Indigenous women being five times more likely to be murdered as a result of violence than non-Indigenous women, and the amount of known missing and murdered Indigenous women reaching almost 600, the government needs to wake up and give these women the protection they need (Cardinal, 2006). Candice Newman was asked to be a part of a fundraiser to help support Violence against Women. A fundraiser done annually is focused on showing the love and support for the women lost to violence by making them a pair of shoes with all their favourite things placed on them. When Candice was asked to come on board with the fundraiser, she expected to be frantic for weeks making shoes for so many lost Indigenous women, but the coordinator gave her a list and asked her to make one thing for a list of at least sixty women. Somehow, every Caucasian woman lost to violence deserved their own pair but Indigenous women were shown that they do not deserve their own pair. This clear unfair treatment supports the idea and distinction of “us” versus “them”. These women were just as deserving as any other woman, and based on ethnic background, those women were not given the same respect. For other Aboriginal women to witness these actions, they too are going to believe their worth is not even comparable to their own pair of shoes. By believing this idea, women are not going to leave their homes, violent or not, to experience what they believe could be worse out in another society. No women would want to leave for what they believe will only get worse, leaving violence against women alive.
Aboriginal women and communities face daily acts of discrimination, even just outside their own towns. When Ms. Daily was teaching at the residential school, she witnessed the Aboriginal peoples being limited to certain streets outside the reserves, or they would be abused. Aboriginal People would get garbage thrown at them, be chased out of towns, and even be abused for no reason other than being Aboriginal. When an individual has to deal with these kinds of acts every time they try to leave town, it is clear anger and frustration are going to build up, especially when nothing is being done to help. In fact, the blame would be completely thrown the other way, and Aboriginal Peoples were the ones being convicted and thrown in jail. Between 1997 and 2000, Aboriginal people were ten times more likely to be accused of homicide than Non-Aboriginal people (Brzozowski, Johnson et al., n.d.). When Aboriginal peoples are already vulnerable, being committed of crime, when crime is being committed towards you would be a very heart wrenching experience to go through. Men began to try and fight back, which just led to more convictions. Build up of anger against the government was being thrown back at the wives, because they were helpless in the situation, and were seen as possessions. The concept of human right is based on the recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being without exception (Cardinal, 2006). Aboriginal peoples deserve the same rights as any other community, especially the women. Their concerns should be taken into account in the same manner as a woman from Ontario would without being discriminated against. These women deserve better lives; they are just as human as anyone else.
When experiencing a tough time, it is human behaviour for individuals to seek a secure, trusting place that will support them. When things become very rough, people tend to turn to the police to help solve the problem. What if the police do not want to help you because you are Aboriginal? Aboriginal communities are already lacking funding from the government, as stated earlier but have now lost all support from the criminal justice system, who see Aboriginal communities as a waste of time and energy. The justice system is in fact creating a situation in which the legal response mechanisms that should be protecting the rights of aboriginal victims are largely ineffective (Bopp et al., 2006). The justice system is taking advantage of their given power and using it against what they believe is a “useless cause”. Putting a stop to violence against aboriginal women is not seen as a priority to the justice system, resulting in no problems being resolved. Police response times to abuse cases are typically very delayed, and some officers take days to even show up to the crime scene. One RCMP officer stated “There’s nothing we can do for these people…if he know it’s a domestic violence disturbance, there’s lots of other things we would rather be doing. Sometimes we don’t respond, because it’s the same thing over and over again” (Bopp et al., 2006). With that kind of attitude coming from the people who are supposed to protect individuals from hard situations, they are now encouraging the violence to continue by announcing they do not care to respond. Not only is this lack of support coming from the officers themselves, but the courts are handling this in the same way, considering only three of thirty six abuse cases reported in a month (Bopp et al., 2006). If only three cases are considered, Aboriginal peoples are going to realize this and not even bother to report the cases any more, deterring individuals of seeking help. Many women have little faith in the efficiency of reporting an act of violence to the authorities because they have little faith in the authority’s ability or willingness to act effectively (Health Agency, 2008). With no faith, no crime can be resolved, leaving these women to suffer.
The lack of social support within the community has had a direct effect on Aboriginal women’s knowledge of domestic violence and other living alternatives, and has left women stranded in their abusive relationships. When the institutions that are supposed to support these women fail at doing so, the women aren’t going to grow to understand their situations are not the most stable for living in. Since 2006, Steven Harper has cancelled funds for universal women’s groups that do research on violence. Alongside this came the Canadian government’s refusal to sign the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous people (Public Service Alliance, 2008). With women’s group funds being cancelled, and no support from the government yet again, the women do not have shelters, homes, or support groups to attend to help themselves out of abuse. The government should be providing sustained funding to shelters and counselling for Indigenous women to prevent the violence, not take them away. When communities are not supplying the accessible services for victims to turn to, isolation with the abuser is maintained, and victims have no other choice but to stay (Bopp et al., 2006). Majority of Aboriginal women grow up with no understanding of what a healthy relationship between a man and woman truly consists because they do not have the resources to do so. And with the isolation from other communities because of discrimination, there’s no way of finding those sources on their own. Aboriginal women can also have fear of the unknown and not want to go out looking for something new, as things could turn out worse (Health Agency of Canada, 2008). Without proper social support, the fear stays with the women and they stick with what they have, violence. Education is so important to save these women from domestic violence, and Canada is stopping this from happening.
Violence within Aboriginal communities has been following a dangerous path for decades, and will continue downwards unless they receive help. Women, including Aboriginal do not deserve to have to live in a home filled with violence and instability, and the government should not continue to watch this happen. With Canada turning a blind eye to the problems of the Aboriginal communities, and continuing to make these problems worse with the influence of residential schools and discrimination, things can only get worse. Darlene Osborne, relative to Helen Osborne said “Families like mine all over Canada are wondering how many more sisters and daughters we have to lose before real government action is taken” (Cardinal, 2006). These women need to help and funding from the government, they need to feel safe in their own homes and understand what a healthy relationship is. Aboriginal women deserve the change to live like any other Canadian women, it’s up to the government to open their eyes and make that change.
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