Our View: Arguing over a word just another insult to Indigenous people

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls issued its final report on June 3 and it was truly devastating.

The report included stories from thousands of family members and survivors of violence, as well as experts and officials who delivered testimony at 24 hearings and statement-gathering events in 2017 and 2018.

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The report said systemic racial and gendered human rights violations — still happening today — are the cause of thousands of disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, LGBTQ and two-spirited people.

The report pointed to examples of harms suffered at the hands of Canadian authorities, including the failure to protect them from exploitation, trafficking and killers; deaths in police custody; physical, sexual, and mental abuse in state institutions; the removal of children; forced relocations; coerced sterilizations; and the lack of funding for social services.

Marion Buller, the inquiry's chief commissioner, said the tragedy in Canada is a direct result of a "persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human- and Indigenous-rights violations and abuses, perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state, designed to displace Indigenous people from their lands, social structures and governments, and to eradicate their existence as nations, communities, families and individuals."

And then the report said that the thousands of Indigenous women who were murdered and or went missing represent a genocide.

Now, when faced with such overwhelming evidence of a national tragedy, you would think the reaction would be one of horror, but also resolve from Canadians to ensure this madness is stopped in its tracks.

You would, of course, be wrong.

Instead, a few media outlets and some politicians – like Conservative leader Andrew Scheer - decided to obsess about the use of the word “genocide” – arguing that it was incorrect to use this term in connection to what the report outlined.

So, a report details atrocities in our country, but some people felt it was more important to push back and quibble over semantics – distracting people from the truths detailed in the report. The message sent to Indigenous people was that people weren’t listening and didn’t care about their pain. Star newspaper Indigenous columnist Tanya Talaga said it felt like the inquiry’s findings were being “mocked” by pundits in the media.

The inquiry made a powerful case in using the word genocide, but it’s not up to us give our blessing to Indigenous people about its use. Instead, as a media outlet, it’s up to us to shut up, listen to what the inquiry is saying, pledge to do a better job of covering Indigenous people and their issues, and urge those in power – and our readers - to take action.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to create a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Now those are the words people should be paying attention to – in order to ensure they are actually kept.

  • With additional reporting by Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Courier

 

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