As It Happens

Bev Jacobs on Canada's murdered and missing indigenous women

No one person can speak on behalf of so many, but for years, Bev Jacobs has tried to raise awareness for Canada's missing and murdered women and their families.
Bev Jacobs (Twitter)
Bev Jacobs on Canada's murdered and missing indigenous women 12:58

During our series, we've heard from a mother, a sister, a niece, a fiancé — all of whom have struggled to find their missing loved ones. They are among roughly 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in this country.

Bev Jacobs has tried to raise awareness for these women and their families. In 2004, she was the lead researcher of "No More Stolen Sisters" – a groundbreaking report on Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women by Amnesty International. From 2004 to 2009, she continued her work as the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.

"We're at crisis levels," Jacobs tells As It Happens host Carol Off about the current state of affairs. "We live in a really racist and sexist society, so trying to get through those barriers is one of the first steps to get people to understand the reality of what's happening."

Jacobs says that attitudes have not changed much since she started her research over 10 years ago.

"The numbers are high and they're horrific," she says. "To me, policing is the frontline, and now that they have this [RCMP] report, and they have the numbers, they know who they need to investigate. They need to put the proper resources into policing in order to do the proper searches and investigations -- and that's what I'm not hearing [is happening]."

Jacobs still sees a significant problem regarding how police perceive cases of missing indigenous women, and specifically, when they label them as "high risk."

"Right now, it seems that being an Indigenous woman means that you're at high risk," she says. "To me it's about training, it's about educating the frontline of policing and understanding domestic violence, understanding sexual violence, understanding the history and impacts of colonization on indigenous people — and even the role of policing to Indigenous people, because there's not a lot of trust there."

So far, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused an inquiry into missing and murdered women, calling it a series of unconnected crimes, and not a "sociological phenomenon."

"I'm not surprised in his response and his lack of education," Jacobs says. "If government is not willing to do its part — and it hasn't done its part in the hundreds of years that they've existed — if you're battling a political organization that's not willing to even recognize the issues that need to be addressed, then you need to move on to a place where those changes are going to happen. Or at least where people become aware, and this shift, and the changes, and the understanding, is happening at the grassroots and community level."

She also has a personal connection to the issue, as her 21-year-old pregnant cousin Tashina General went missing in January 2008. Jacobs was travelling as president of the Native Women's Association of Canada and didn't find out about her cousin's disappearance for three months. However, when she did find out, she immediately made calls to the Six Nations' police chief, and a press conference was held. Sadly, General's body was found three weeks later.

"Her body was found in a shallow grave behind the murderer's house on the reserve at Six Nations. He was another young Mohawk man who is now in prison. It was hard. It was harsh. You know, to do all of that advocacy and support for families across the country and then to have it happen in my own family was really devastating."

Jacobs believes that despite the many indigenous families suffering from the loss or absence of their loved ones, that they have shown incredible strength.

"I think we're pretty strong people to still be surviving and thriving as a people, to maintain our ceremonies and maintain our connections to the land. Especially, as women, we are taking the lead and have always taken the lead in what's needed for our families. We celebrate our ancestors and we celebrate what their teachings have given us. I truly believe that's what's helping us to continue on and that we're still victorious people to be able to survive such horrific trauma."

"Today there's a lot of acknowledging that we still have a role to play, to remember that we have a responsibility in this lifetime to think about seven generations from now, and that we want things better for them than what we've ever had."