No Sign of Change
My sister is 22 years old. She is bright and has an important contribution to make. Her Aboriginal counter part, just as bright with an equally important contribution to make, will face higher rates and more varied forms of violence than she will. When she faces this violence, she will be less likely to seek the assistance of the police, and if she does call for help the police will be less likely to respond in a timely manner.
A recent study found that young Aboriginal women are disproportionately represented among victims of violence when compared to non-Aboriginal women and to Aboriginal women from other age groups. As a March 2011 Interim Report by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, these figures, though shocking are not new. Poverty, a lack of sufficient housing, and a series of child welfare issues all need to be addressed by tangible commitment to change and not just changing the name of the portfolio.
Support for victims is important, but pilot projects that disappear after funding is exhausted are not sufficient to break the cycle of violence. Addressing the source of the violence, the troubled relationship between Aboriginal people and Canadian institutions (schools, police forces, courts), in all of its complexity is the only route to substantive change. This may call for public education about Aboriginal culture to help diminish racism (both overt and systemic). Witnesses at the Standing Committees hearings (watch here for more) call out for a holistic approach, emphasizing the importance of culturally-appropriate programming and Aboriginal leadership in the development of community tools.
There are sisters, parents and best friends who know that the 22 year old in their lives is more likely to face violence than her non-Aboriginal counter part. The difference cannot be attributed to luck or to volition. The difference is the fallout of colonialism, residential schools and systemic racism.