Indigenous

Indigenous women more likely to face violence in their lifetime, says new report

A Statistics Canada report says 64 per cent of Indigenous women in Atlantic Canada have experienced either physical or sexual assault in their lifetime, compared to 45 per cent of non-Indigenous women.

Statistics Canada report says 63% of Indigenous women have faced physical or sexual assault

A red dress, symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, hangs atop the plinth at the centre of Peace and Friendship Park in downtown Halifax last summer. A report says 64 per cent of Indigenous women in Atlantic Canada have faced physical or sexual assault in their lifetime. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

Sixty-four per cent of Indigenous women in Atlantic Canada have experienced violence, either physical or sexual assault, in their lifetime since the age of 15, according to an April Statistics Canada report.

The report says, nationally, 63 per cent of Indigenous women have experienced physical or sexual assault in their lifetime.

Indigenous women in the provinces were more likely than non-Indigenous women to have experienced violent victimization, with the comparison being 64 per cent of Indigenous women versus 45 per cent of non-Indigenous women in Atlantic provinces, 62 per cent versus 43 per cent in central Canada, 61 per cent versus 48 per cent in the Prairies, and 65 per cent versus 50 per cent in British Columbia.

The report's analysis was based on data from questionnaires administered online, by telephone and in-person by the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces and the 2019 General Social Survey.

One traditional district chief in Nova Scotia fears the rate of violence may be even higher.

Marilynn-Leigh Francis, Kespu'kwitk district chief, says violence against Indigenous women has become normalized. She thinks returning to the land and empowering sovereignty is the only path forward. (submitted by Marilynn-Leigh Francis)

"I don't know an L'nu woman who hasn't been sexually or physically assaulted," said Marilynn-Leigh Francis, district chief of Kespu'kwik, a region in western Nova Scotia. 

L'nu is the Mi'kmaw word for person of the land.

Francis said the numbers are grim but aren't shocking. She attributes the violence to cycles at home and hopes to break them. 

"I want to instill in my daughter that if somebody likes you or somebody cares for you, it doesn't hurt," said Francis.

Francis wants to see Indigenous women further empowered and to become completely self sufficient, learning to hunt, fish and gaining trade skills.

Intimate partner violence

The report says 55 per cent of Indigenous women have experienced physical or sexual assault by a non-intimate partner in their lifetime, compared to 38 per cent of non-Indigenous women.

It also says 44 per cent of Indigenous women have faced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, compared to 25 per cent of non-Indigenous women. 

Heather Murchland, executive director of the Gignoo Transition House in Fredericton, which helps Indigenous women transition from domestically violent homes, has worked with vulnerable Indigenous women since 2003 and said the problem seems to be growing. 

Isolation due to the pandemic and rising housing prices makes leaving much harder for women, she said. The solution, she said, is three-pronged: more funding for transition houses, more affordable housing and more Indigenous cultural programming. 

The report mentions how through colonialism Indigenous women lost traditional leadership roles in their communities and were denied rights under the Indian Act, contributing to the normalization of violence against Indigenous women. 

Murchland, who is not Indigenous, said the women she serves find healing through cultural activities and that she thinks Canada as a whole needs to learn history from an Indigenous perspective. 

"They have to know the history before they can help," said Murchland.

The Native Women's Association of Canada says it's awaiting every sector to implement the 231 Calls to Justice from the final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

NWAC CEO Lynne Groulx said the numbers from the Statistics Canada report and the inquiry point to a country that still fails to value Indigenous women and that needs to change.

"We need to find a way to make sure the human rights of Indigenous people are respected," said Groulx. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe

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