FILE – An eagle feather is held up during a rally for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 4, 2016. With reports of a sharp rise in violence against Indigenous women as COVID-19 restrictions keep families stuck in their homes, concerns are being raised about whether the pandemic could delay the promised June delivery of a national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

FILE – An eagle feather is held up during a rally for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 4, 2016. With reports of a sharp rise in violence against Indigenous women as COVID-19 restrictions keep families stuck in their homes, concerns are being raised about whether the pandemic could delay the promised June delivery of a national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Violence against Indigenous women during COVID-19 sparks calls for MMIWG plan

One in five Indigenous woman told survey takers they’d experience violence in past three months

With reports of a sharp rise in violence against Indigenous women as COVID-19 restrictions keep families stuck in their homes, concerns are being raised about whether the pandemic could delay the promised June delivery of a national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has been conducting a series of nation-wide, grassroots consultations with their local member offices and with Indigenous women to determine how COVID-19 has been affecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis women in Canada.

The preliminary results reveal a deeply concerning spike in the number of Indigenous women who say they are facing more violent incidents since the pandemic began, often by an intimate partner.

A survey of more than 250 Indigenous women found one in five reporting they’ve been a victim of physical or psychological violence over the past three months.

Also, the preliminary results of this survey and two additional consultations suggest more of these women are concerned about domestic violence in the midst of this pandemic than they are about the virus.

Native Women’s Association President Lorraine Whitman says she finds the numbers “shocking” and is deeply concerned about the safety of Indigenous women in Canada, as public health officials continue to ask people to remain in their homes.

“We know in a perfect world staying at home is a safe place, but it isn’t a perfect world and it isn’t a safe place for some of our women and families,” Whitman said.

“With the social distancing and self-isolation, women have had to stay in a home in a confined area with their abuser or perpetrator and they cannot escape. There’s nowhere where they can go.”

The federal government did commit $40 million in funding to Women and Gender Equality Canada, with up to $30 million earmarked for the “immediate needs” of shelters and sexual assault centres. Another $10 million was provided to Indigenous Services Canada’s existing network of 46 emergency shelters on reserve and in Yukon to support Indigenous women and children fleeing violence.

But Whitman says many shelters and sexual assault centres in the country are not run for or by Indigenous people, which is why many First Nations, Inuit and Metis women won’t access them, even if they’re in trouble.

“They don’t have that comfort zone there and they’re not culturally influenced or inclusive of the Indigenous values that we have and our traditions and ceremonies.”

Even before the pandemic began, Indigenous women in Canada were facing higher levels of violence and abuse — a stark reality laid bare in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The situation has been made worse by the arrival of COVID-19 in Canada, Whitman said.

That’s why, earlier this week, the Native Women’s Association held a virtual roundtable with Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and International Development Minister Karina Gould urging the federal government to implement a national plan for meeting the inquiry’s 231 “calls for justice.”

The urgency has been heightened by the global pandemic crisis, Whitman said.

“We need to have some action. The families of the missing and murdered women and girls and two-spirited (individuals), we’re tired of talk. If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. And I’m not seeing that.”

READ MORE: Easing COVID-19 restrictions too soon could jeopardize vulnerable communities

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said in December the federal government would release its national action plan to respond to the inquiry’s findings in June of this year, which would mark the one-year anniversary of the release of the calls for justice.

In Ottawa on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said work on this national response to the inquiry’s work has been ongoing and that this work is “more important than it has ever been.”

“This government has worked from the beginning to give more support to shelters and organizations and networks that are supporting victims of family violence or gender-based violence. We will continue to do that work,” he said.

“We will continue to work very hard on that national action plan coming from the missing and murdered inquiry. This is a priority that continues and is even intensified because of this crisis.”

Michele Audette, who worked as a commissioner on the MMIWG inquiry, says she believes work on the national action plan — which she says must also include commitments from the provinces and territories — has been delayed by several events over the last year, including the election.

However, she believes even if an action plan had already been in place before the pandemic began, she’s not convinced it would have changed the sad realities now being faced by Indigenous women experiencing increased incidents of violence.

“I don’t know if we would see a change right away because it’s rooted so deeply in the culture, the colonial system,” Audette said.

“Because we are facing the impact of colonialism, we are not a top priority and we can see it with COVID right now.”

She stressed the need for all levels of government — federal, provincial, municipal and Indigenous — to ensure shelters, social workers and first responders who serve Indigenous populations are well supported so they can respond to issues of violence against women.

NDP MP Leah Gazan says the Liberal government has failed to adequately respond to the MMIWG inquiry’s work.

“With the increasing rate of violence, which has occurred during COVID, we are now in an even worse crisis,” she said.

“We need to move swiftly. This is a life and death situation.”

READ MORE: ‘Go back to the old way:’ First Nations return to land during COVID-19 pandemic

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The aftermath of the 3 a.m. fire in Keremeos. (Keremeos Fire Department)
Fire and explosion wakes Keremeos residents

A motorhome was consumed and a boat severely damaged after the 3 a.m. fire

(Contributed)
Penticton Regional Hospital Auxiliary donates $78k to school breakfast programs

The Penticton Breakfast Club runs programs at Queens Park, Westbench and Columbia Elementary schools

South Okanagan Women in Need Society and TIME Winery will be accepting donations from noon to 4 p.m. at Time Winery Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 to help women and children in need during their annual “Time to Give” event. (Contributed)
Support women and children in need this weekend at TIME Winery in Penticton

SOWINS has seen more women than ever become victims to domestic abuse this year

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

The Cactus Court housing property was intended to have zero barriers for accessibility, but the door sills are visibly above the outer layer of concrete. It is one of the issues that BC Housing is currently working on with the contractor for the project. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)
Affordable housing projects in Keremeos continue to sit empty

Cactus Court was supposed to be finished around July this year

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Police responded to W.L. Seaton Secondary after reports of young man attempting to smash car windows in the student parking lot on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (Facebook)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

Member of W.L. Seaton Secondary exposure Nov. 26

Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP was called to a report of a fight at an Okanagan Landing Halloween party Saturday, Oct. 31, but issued the homeowner a ticket  under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act for having too many people at the party. (Black Press file photo)
West Kelowna man, dog rescued from carbon monoxide poisoning

The man was quickly transported to the hospital

Good Samaritan Mountainview Village located at 1540 KLO Road in Kelowna. (Good Samaritan Society)
First long-term care resident dies from COVID-19 in Interior Health

Man in his 80s dies following virus outbreak at Mountainview Village

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

The former BC Tree Fruits office building at 1473 Water Street has been sold. (Contributed)
BC Tree Fruits downtown Kelowna office sold for $7.5M

Historic building sold for 44 per cent more than the $5.2-million asking price

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

Margaret Holm
HOLM: Better Bicycle Lanes

Margaret Holm writes about solutions to global warming

The newly opened Switzmalph Child Care Centre at Salmon Arm offers culturally enriched programs featuring the Secwépemc culture but is open to children of all heritages. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Video: Switzmalph Child Care Centre shares culture with Shuswap community

New daycare at Salmon Arm offers Secwépemc culturally enriched programs to children of all heritages

Most Read