Opinion

Stephen Harper's comments on missing, murdered aboriginal women show 'lack of respect'

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's comment that a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women is not high on the government's radar, made during an interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge, shows a disregard and lack of respect for indigenous people, says Tanya Kappo.

Prime minister says national inquiry not high on government's radar

Stephen Harper sits down with Peter Mansbridge to talk about falling energy prices, climate change and Canada's role in the new Cuba-U.S. relationship. 16:10

In a span of a week, the Conservative government confirmed their feelings of indifference, disregard and utter lack of respect for indigenous people.

It seems that their contempt is solely aimed at First Nation men, First Nation women, and First Nation girls.

This is the very attitude that underlies the government legislation and (non) actions that have resulted in tragic consequences suffered by First Nation people for generations.

The Indian Act. The Indian Residential School. Child Welfare. Theft of land. Theft of children. Theft of identity. Theft of existence. Genocide by legislation.

This, coupled with deeply entrenched stereotypes, bears life and death consequences of violence, self violence, community violence, societal violence, and systemic violence.

Um it, it isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest ... Our ministers will continue to dialogue with those who are concerned about this.- Prime Minister Stephen Harper on a public inquiry into missing aboriginal women

And it's the indigenous women and girls who suffer the brunt of this – going missing and being murdered in epidemic proportions in neighbourhoods, streets and highways in every part of this country.

This very heavy, dark and painful truth is a  reality that affects every single person who calls Canada home.

Yet, in the very words of the prime minister: "… it isn't really high on our radar, to be honest."

And when he weakly tried to defend the efforts of his government, the Harper distinctly removed himself completely from the equation.
The death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine in August renewed calls for a national public inquiry into the nearly 1,200 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women. (Facebook)

"Our ministers will continue to dialogue with those who are concerned about this," he said.

There are many who are concerned about this. Many who have lent their voices to call on the Conservative government for a national inquiry. Towns, cities, police forces, schools, unions, artists, musicians and families of those who've lost their mother, sister, daughter, auntie or grandma.

More than 1,200 human lives inexplicably gone, stolen. Children left motherless. Mothers left daughterless. And grandmas and aunties, gone.

Not just an issue on reserves

The prime minister continually says his government is making new laws, taking action and wants to ensure everyone is afforded the same protections.

Yet there is no evidence whatsoever that these new laws (applicable only to First Nations on reserve) have made any difference in the face of this crisis.

The Conservative government seems to be committed to making Canadians believe the violence is attributed only to First Nation men, on reserves. Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt recently made a comment in this regard, but in doing so, put his finger squarely on the problem.

"Obviously, there's a lack of respect for women and girls on reserves," he said. "So you know, if the guys grow up believing that women have no rights, that is how they are treated."

It would seem that it's the Conservative government's attitude he is describing, not the attitude of First Nations men on reserves.

Lack of respect? Absolutely.

If someone grows up believing that others don't have rights, then they treat them as if they don't have rights? Yes, yes indeed.

The Conservative government does not believe First Nation people have rights, and make their profound lack of respect painfully clear.

Harper assault a travesty, not a 'situation'

Recently, Rinelle Harper, who survived a brutal assault, challenged everyone to push for a national inquiry. And to that, Valcourt, gave a response that made me sick to my stomach.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offers his views in a year-end interview with the CBC's chief correspondent, Peter Mansbridge. (CBC)
"Listen, Rinelle, I have a lot of sympathy for your situation. And I guess that victims … have different views and we respect them," he said.

Rinelle is 16 years old. She is still a child. A child who survived a brutal physical and sexual assault meant to kill her and the aboriginal affairs minister refers to the assault as her "situation." 

It should never be OK to refer to such a brutal act as a situation, let alone one that was inflicted on a child.

To allow the federal government to continue this approach is to accept the same results – more missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

I do not believe that this is what Canadians want.

A national inquiry must be part of the action taken. Together.

Indigenous people will always take responsibility for what belongs to them, including fault when appropriate and will always work towards solutions for the benefit of all.

It's time Canadians demand their government do the same.

About the Author

Tanya Kappo

Tanya Kappo is a citizen of the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 8 territory. She is a lawyer in Edmonton working with residential school survivors and a mother to three children.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.