Sabrina Natale Women in Security

Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Background on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG)

Across Canada, Aboriginal and First Nation communities stand in solidarity to honor the lives of more than a thousand cases of MMIWG. For decades, Indigenous women and girls have gone missing and have been brutally murdered with little or no explanation as to the whereabouts or events leading up to those extremely violent attacks. For many Aboriginal and First Nation women and girls, the constant threat of violence, abuse, racism and discrimination has become an everyday reality with many experiencing various forms of violence and abuse daily. Aboriginal and First Nation peoples have petitioned long and hard to the Government of Canada for a call to action to end the violence experienced by so many both on and off reserve. The scale and ongoing severity of violence towards this demographic constitutes a national human rights crisis in Canada, as well as, a threat to overall human and national security.


National Inquiry

Historically, indigenous peoples have struggled for recognition, equality and in addressing longstanding issues with the Government of Canada. They have pressured the government of Canada to launch an official national inquiry in the hundreds of cases of MMIWG. Officially launched in September 2016, the National Inquiry into MMIWG is a national response to the call to action by Indigenous communities across the country. The National Inquiry is composed of commissioners from across Canada and is exclusive and independent from federal, provincial and territorial governments and institutions. The Commissioners’ mandate is to systematically examine and report the causes of violence towards women and girls. Furthermore, the commission will identify the common trends in violence and underlying factors facilitating violence and increasing the likelihood and vulnerability of this particular demographic.


Violence Towards Indigenous Women and Girls

Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence and abuse. When compared to Canada’s female population, Indigenous women comprise 4.3 per cent of the total population. According to recently collected data from the 2011 National Household Survey, this equates to roughly 1.4 million people. Despite representing such a small percentage of the population, approximately 16 per cent of all women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were identified as Indigenous. Official numbers released by the RCMP illustrate the severity of the violence towards Indigenous women and girls. According to a review by the RCMP, police-reported incidences of Aboriginal homicides and cases of unresolved missing Aboriginal female investigations totaled 1,181. This figure includes 1,017 incidences of Aboriginal homicide victims between 1980 and 2012, as well as, the 164 currently missing Aboriginal women. Of these cases, 225 remain unsolved.


A breakdown of the probable causes for missing Aboriginal females as of November 2013, indicates the highest probable cause being unknown at 37% representing 61 out of the 164 missing victims. Other probable causes for missing victims include foul play and accidents both at 27% representing 44 victims, followed by incidents of lost victims or those who have wandered off at 7% representing 12 victims and lastly 1% of victims identified as runaways representing roughly 2 victims.


The data collected between 1980 and 2012 report 20,313 homicides occurring across Canada, averaging to approximately 615 per year. Of these total victims, 32% represent female victims, and 16% representing all Aboriginal female homicide victims. The highest recorded cause of death for aboriginal victims was identified as being physically beaten to the point of death. Other causes of death included stabbing, shooting, strangulation, suffocation, drowning, smoke inhalation, burns and other unidentified causes. Homicides occurring domestically or within a residence were ranked the highest for aboriginal victims. This was also consistent with non-aboriginal female homicide victims.


Implications of MMIWG on National and Human Security

The official launch of a national inquiry into the case of MMIWG represents a global trend towards strengthening national security as a mandate of the Government of Canada. Strengthening national security is largely dependant on strengthening human security. Human security involves protecting the inherent human rights and fundamental freedoms of all peoples. Contrary to national security where the centre of analysis is focused on the state, international relations and military development, human security is focused on protecting the security of individuals and on empowering individuals by ensuring human rights and freedoms are protected and upheld. Both national and human security are necessary to achieve overall peace, stability and cooperation both internally within a state and internationally.


In addressing MMIWG, it is imperative for the Commissioners of the National Inquiry to identify the common trends and patterns of violence that specifically target and affect the human security of all Canada’s Indigenous peoples. It is imperative to identify and analyze the types of security threats affecting Indigenous peoples, particularly personal, community, economic and political security. This includes living conditions, financial stability, poverty, lack of access to education, social services, and child care, substance abuse, prostitution, human trafficking and abusive spousal or partner relationships that affect Indigenous women and girls and engender the likelihood of violence towards this demographic. It is important to address each type of human security threat in order to prevent a domino effect from occurring. For instance, in many cases, a lack of economic or financial stability can lead to personal security threats such as domestic violence through having victims be dependent on an abusive partner for financial support.


On January 5, 2017, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) announced its release of official report cards on the National Inquiry into MMIWG. In response to the lack of communication from the Inquiry to friends and family members of the victims, executive director, Lynne Groulx describes how report cards will be used to provide the public with comprehensive updates on the inquiry.


Photo: A Heiltsuk girl from the Bella Bella Indian Reserve 1, British Columbia, Canada (1993), by UN multimedia via Flickr. Licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

Sabrina Natale
Sabrina Natale is a Junior Research Fellow at NATO Association of Canada. Sabrina holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Toronto with specialization in Political Science. Her studies have focused on international relations, global governance and Canadian politics. Sabrina is currently working towards the completion of a Graduate Certificate in International Development from Humber College. Sabrina is currently part of a team developing a project proposal for the Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) for Global Affairs Canada. As an emerging international development professional, Sabrina hopes to work within human right's and with intergovernmental organizations both throughout Canada and overseas.