Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

AN EMOTIONAL HOUR – A discussion on missing and murdered aboriginal women took place at Yukon College over Monday’s lunch hour. Christine Genier (far left) moderated the panel. At the table, left to right, are Melissa Atkinson, Adeline Webber, Jessica Lott Thompson and Lianne Charlie.

Poignant talk focused on violence against women

On her walk to work Monday morning,

By Amy Kenny on December 6, 2016

On her walk to work Monday morning, Lianne Charlie turned a statistic over and over in her head – that 32 per cent of indigenous women who are killed are beaten to death.

“And that statistic scared me so much,” said Charlie, her voice breaking as she spoke to an audience of roughly 35 gathered early Monday afternoon in the Pit at Yukon College.

The crowd was there for a panel discussion on missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada – part of the 12 Days to End Violence Against Women campaign.

Charlie, an instructor with the school of political science at the college, was joined by legal aid lawyer Melissa Atkinson, Jessica Lott Thompson of the Yukon Human Rights Commission and Adeline Webber, who founded the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women's Council.

Local broadcaster Christine Genier moderated the hour-long panel.

It was a moving discussion, especially after Charlie recited the statistic about beatings (found in a 2014 report from the RCMP, which looked at numbers from the 1980s through 2012), and had to pause for nearly 15 seconds before continuing.

“What (that statistic) revealed to me was that yes, we need to draw attention and build awareness around what’s happening to our women, but there’s people who are doing this to them,” said Charlie.

“It’s beatings that are taking place in their home. In their private residence where they live. In the place that’s supposed to be the safest for us.

“The intimacy of that is overwhelming. So we have to imagine solutions; we have to actually be in each other’s homes.”

Alyssa Carpenter, a student in the audience, said she spent half the panel crying.

Carpenter moved to Whitehorse from Yellowknife to attend the social work program at Yukon College, but she grew up in Inuvik and Sachs Harbour.

Places, she said, where she saw the ways in which violence is normalized, stigmatized, and hidden in communities.

“This was just one of the events that I knew I had to make time for,” Carpenter said of the schedule for the 12 Days campaign.

“They touched upon things that I’ve heard, but it’s things that I think people need to be hearing repeatedly.”

Among those things were concerns and comments on the handling of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Webber said she knows women are frustrated with the pace of the $54-million inquiry, which only recently established a website (www.mmiwg-ffada.ca), and which won’t formally meet with families until the spring of 2017.

Atkinson gave voice to that frustration.

“If any other factor in Canadian society were five times more likely to show up dead or die violently, or go missing, absolutely Canadian government would be on it,” Atkinson said.

She highlighted British Columbia’s inquiry into the hockey riots that took place in Vancouver during the 2011 Stanley Cup play-offs.

“But I’ve been waiting my entire lifetime to see this issue come to the forefront, and it looks like I’ll have to wait a little longer.”

Atkinson said that, in her line of work, she regularly sees the ways in which the system is broken. She sees it today. She saw it in her first year of law school back in the ’90s.

She remembers one trial where two Saskatchewan men picked up an indigenous woman named Pamela George. They had oral sex with her, beat her to death, and left her in a ditch.

Atkinson remembers the judge in the case cautioning the jury members to remember, when making their decision, that George was a prostitute.

The men were charged with manslaughter.

“That rocked me to my core,” said Atkinson.

While Webber said she thinks things are better today than they were when she was growing up in the ’50s, the issue of violence against women is by no means resolved, she said.

Lott Thompson said one thing communities can do going forward, is teach younger generations that violence isn’t an option. She said that means everything from bullying, to snatching a toy from another kid.

“The key ingredient for me, to imagine a world that is without violence, is a world where consent is held as one of our highest and dearest values,” she said.

Charlie said finding solutions requires an understanding that violence against women is complex, systemic, and multi-faceted.

One that can be especially difficult for indigenous women who may find it difficult to trust and report to an institution such as the RCMP, which played a historical role in breaking up families through the residential school system.

“It’s all just so deeply entwined that a solution has to be just as whole,” said Charlie.

“Just as deeply entwined, and I’m not sure what that looks like but I know that every day, every day we are developing and acting in ways that will ensure our resiliency and will ensure our survival.

“And that’s why we’re here talking to you about this today.”

Putting on her coat after the discussion, Carpenter said she hopes that talk is something people take home with them.

“I hope it’s a discussion that we can have with the people we love and trust, and then it ripples out.

“I really think it starts with you and then your family, and then from there, you can go beyond and really work with the people and the organizations that are trying to bring this issue to the forefront.”

Comments (1)

Up 3 Down 1

Haunting Example on Dec 7, 2016 at 1:47 pm

I recall living on a large Alberta reserve as a young teenager in the mid 1980's, the people I was staying with were a couple where the husband would get intoxicated sometimes and beat the wife up. The reserve (called Tribal) police force would be called and show up, but as they were mostly either related to or friends of her husband it would usually turn into a visit for him and his cop friends and he would convince them to leave. The woman would sometimes go to a shelter for a while until the bruises healed and then eventually return home, at the time I didn't know why she would ever come back to him. As an adult now I realize that she didn't have any options as he could get to her anywhere she went on the reserve, and to her moving off reserve where she didn't know anyone who would help her might as well have been moving to the moon.
I moved away and never went back so I don't know what ever happened to her.

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