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Indigenous Women & Violence, an ongoing battle

This article was originally written by the author for the BC Heritage Fair’s Alumni Council Blog in 2023. With the BCHFS’s permission, part of the article has been shared to BOLT Safety’s platform with some edits and additional information.

* In this article, Indigenous refers to the First Peoples of Canada including the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.

* While the author of this article is not Indigenous, they have used multiple sources to best represent the topic at hand. That being said, they are not in a position of authority to represent the collective experiences of Indigenous women in Canada. Additionally, if any corrections need to be made to the article, please reach out to our team.

With the passing and celebration of International Women’s Day, globally there have been calls to improve the treatment of women on all stages. At BOLT Safety, we would like to take this time to highlight the pressing crisis of violence against Indigenous Women in Canada.

Women make up, approximately, half of the world's population. They have, since time immemorial, been the mothers, leaders, and knowledge-keepers of our society, being the foundation of numerous civilizations. Yet, around the world, there is an inherent lack of records, stories, and memories of women, almost as if they did not exist. Even the word history has a patriarchal root, a reflection of our society, and as such can not encompass the diverse accomplishments of women around the world. However, while patriarchal societies thrived and continue to propagate prejudice against women, one can not ignore the effect colonialism has played in exacerbating pre-existing issues or in creating new ones where none existed. 

This article aims to focus on HERstory, starting with Indigenous women, right here in Canada.

Indigenous women were never seen as inferior till European colonization. As settlers arrived in what we now call Canada, they brought along and implemented “their patriarchal social codes and beliefs”, trying to understand “[Indigenous] society through a patriarchal lens.” Ultimately, their goal was to assimilate the “uncivilized” people, which led to Indigenous women facing the “double burden” of being “discriminated against as a woman, and further for being [Indigenous] (Indigenous Foundations UBC).”

Moving on, from 1928-72 in Alberta and 1933-73 in British Columbia, provincial legislation was passed that encouraged Indigenous women to receive coerced or even forced sterilization in "federally operated Indian hospitals". This duress was carried out often during the women's most vulnerable moments, including pregnancy or childbirth.

What’s more, the Indian Act, a piece of Federal Legislation that resulted in prolonged suffering, discrimination, and oppression, has led to poverty, marginalization, and violence faced by innumerable Indigenous women. Under the Act - till 1985, women, not men, would have had their status removed if they married someone without status (The Canadian Encyclopedia). As such, they would be forced to leave their homes on reserves, alongside their family, community, and support system.

At this point, it is imperative to discuss the portrayal, sexualization, and associated stereotypes of Indigenous women. In school textbooks, misinformation was purposefully spread to portray Indigenous people as savage, with the men being cruel, blood-thirsty rapists, and the women being dehumanized to be shown as “squaws”. “Squaws” or these women, were portrayed as “lustful, immoral, unfeeling and dirty”. Even in the media, Indigenous women were objectified and fetishized, Pocahontas being one example. This promotes dangerous narratives that are especially harmful to the well-being of Indigenous women around the world. 

One can not simply overlook the injustices faced by students at the government and Church-sanctioned residential schools. Here the children, especially girls, were exploited, often facing mental, physical, and sexual abuse. This trauma, carried on from childhood by many to this day, was passed down through generations and with inadequate support, compounded the generational divide. With many turning to drugs and alcohol to cope and with no visible, healthy relationships to look up to, amongst other systemic barriers, many Indigenous women ended up in abusive relationships, a cycle of hurt, and with little to no support, the damage and wounds ran deeper and deeper. 

In 1990, “the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba noted that one in three Indigenous women suffered abuse at the hands of her partner.” As reported in 2014, Indigenous women were three times more likely “to report being a victim of spousal violence” as compared to non-Indigenous women. To this day, though Indigenous women make up 4 percent of the population, they are disproportionately reported in homicide and missing persons cases. In the span of just three decades from 1980 to 2012, over 1100 Indigenous women were reported dead. This drives home just how deleterious the injustices faced by Indigenous women have been.

In addition, a 2016 report showed that Indigenous people made up 4.9 percent of Canada's population. Yet, "life expectancy for Indigenous people is less than that of the overall Canadian population (The Canadian Encyclopedia)". Indigenous women, to this day, continue to be affected by "poverty, single parenthood, unemployment, and poor housing". Rural communities also lack adequate services "for the well-being and protection of women and children", including crisis support, shelters, and medical resources.

Indigenous women have always been powerful leaders. While they have faced countless challenges, their resilience continues to set them apart as they heal and uplift others to do so. However, this does not disregard the fact that the larger Canadian community, needs to step up and play our role in ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone, including Indigenous women. A first step can include listening to, amplifying, and supporting Indigenous voices and changemakers. You can also sign petitions and show support for ongoing movements aiming to better the lives of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, starting by visiting the links below. If you or someone you know needs help, the links below also contain resources with certain being specifically tailored for Indigenous Peoples.


McNab, Miriam. “Indigenous Women’s Issues in Canada.” Edited by Anne-marie Pedersen and Tabitha de Bruin. The Canadian Encyclopedia, April 30, 2020. 

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