The Current

Call what happened to Indigenous women a genocide so we can move forward, says MMIWG inquiry's lead counsel

The inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women concludes there has been a "Canadian genocide," a term that has prompted mixed reactions. We discuss why the report used the term, and whether Canadians will understand what it means in this context.

We need to have 'honest conversations,' says Christa Big Canoe

The national inquiry into the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women started in Sept. 2016. (CBC News)

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Acknowledging the violence against Indigenous women in Canada as a "genocide" is an important way to move forward, according to the lead counsel for the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

"Colonial genocide is a slow-moving and insidious phenomenon that actually results in ongoing harm," said lead counsel Christa Big Canoe.

"If we can name and situate what it is we're dealing with, then we can start to actually implement calls to action," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls released its final report Monday, calling the level of violence against these women a "Canadian genocide."

It heard from more than 2,000 Canadians all over the country over the past three years. Its final 1,200-page report was released Monday, making 231 "calls for justice."

'Genocide can come in many forms' | MMIWG Chief Commissioner Marion Buller

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2 years ago
MMIWG Chief Commissioner Marion Buller explains the inquiry's final report, and discusses why the inquiry used the term genocide. 6:58

Big Canoe said that there is ample evidence to support the word genocide, of "human rights infringements that have occurred toward Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited LGBTQQIA [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and allies] individuals."

"It all comes together, we have a very large public record."

Frank Chalk, a history professor at Concordia University, said that while he strongly supports the recommendations of the inquiry, he thinks the use of the word genocide is "risky."

Chalk, who is also co-founder of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, told Tremonti that when people think of genocide they think of the Holocaust or what happened in Rwanda, but may not understand the concept of "slow genocide" right away.

It's unfortunate that we 'cling to the view ... that genocide can only be committed by a totalitarian, or authoritarian regime,' said Christa Big Canoe. (CBC)

"Now, you have to understand Canada is a colonial society … and on the basis of this we want you to please pay attention to the larger picture of systemic genocide stretching over many centuries," he said.

"Well, that's a lot to educate people about in one go."

He described the term as a "cannon" aimed at getting changes in public policy, but described the tactic as "risky, and maybe even unnecessary, because the recommendations and the research behind them are so well-founded."

Listen: A family member of two missing women on why she thinks genocide is the right term. Hear more on Monday's show.

Lorelei Williams supports the report's use of the term 'Canadian genocide,' she tells Anna Maria Tremonti. 0:34

Big Canoe disagreed, and said "maybe a cannon is required, given the bleak statistics and the treatment of Indigenous women in this country."

"I think unfortunately we cling to the view ... that genocide can only be committed by a totalitarian, or authoritarian regime," she told Tremonti.

She told Tremonti that Canadians need to have honest conversations, and shouldn't shy away from strong words, or leave them to academic discussion.

"It's the same kind of polite Canadian-ness that fails to recognize, and has failed to recognize, things like racism, [and] that the impact colonial legacy has had on Indigenous people continues to be harmful."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Kristin Nelson, Max Paris and Julian Uzielli.