One of the key global issues today is violence against women, their bodies, minds and spirits. Throughout the world, indigenous women in particular pay the price of systemic patriarchy and misogyny. Theoretically, this can be understood as the intersections between racism and colonialism, sexism and poverty, and more recently, the effects of globalization in the Southern Hemisphere. Emotionally, this cannot be understood, for thousands upon thousands of women have gone missing without the proper attention or concern from the general public, our law enforcement agencies, our governmental and political parties, and our media. From Juarez, Mexico to the west to east coasts of Canada, indigenous girls and women are at far higher risk to be kidnapped, sexually abused or raped, and murderedi. As feminists of Canada, it is our obligation to understand the reasons behind this atrocity of violence, to resist this injustice, and find resolutions for change, so that we may have hope for our future and the future of all Canadian girls and women. It is our belief that Saskatchewan is the place to hold a conference on the subject of missing women because of the alarming incidence of missing women here and the key role that aboriginal communities play, and will continue to play, in our province’s future.
This conference intends to highlight the consistent and alarming rise of missing indigenous women within the context of postcolonial and third wave feminist theoretical locations. It will be unique in its intent and proposed outcomes. While other conferences typically involve either academic or activist communities, we intend to converge the concerns of academics and activists alike for two reasons: to understand the interconnecting systems that allow the silence and invisibility surrounding this issue, and to create a networking atmosphere in which actions and resolutions might be envisioned.
It is our intent that speakers will address issues that are common to indigenous women living in colonized countries, specifically patterns of violence toward indigenous women, the impact of residential schools, issues of sexuality and sexual health, poverty, lack of access to education, and to seek the decolonization of politics, education, the legal system, media, gender, religion and the spirit. This conference will serve as an opportunity to build bridges of understanding between the academic community, political community, legal community, activist community and church community. Our goal is to engage both local and global activist speakers and to build global connections.
A portion of the conference will focus on the role of media in cases of missing women. Journalist and author Isabel Arvide, who has been imprisoned twice by the Mexican government because of her outspoken criticisms, has agreed to speak about the repression of media in Mexico. Other members of the media from both Mexico and Canada will round out the panel. Reference to Canadian incidences will include the Pickton trial and the ongoing disappearances of aboriginal women in Saskatchewan and Canada.
The conference will include panel discussion on the influence of religious beliefs on the status of women. The impact of colonialist Christianity will be juxtaposed with current movements that support decolonization. Two examples located within Saskatchewan and Mexico are the ‘Sisters in Spirit’ii campaign and the ELCA Mission Houseiii. Indigenous groups’ reclamation of spiritual practices that provide women with autonomy and dignity will be examined.
Historically, feminist theory has largely excluded the lived experiences of indigenous women and has been accused of serving the needs of white women. This conference will seek to highlight Indigenous women’s perspectives on what is missing from the current feminist movement. We have invited several academic experts for this panel, as we are fortunate to have several connections with many universities including the First Nations University of Canada. We again wish to emphasize the uniqueness of our conference, in that we will examine both theoretical reasons and activist resolutions. This, of course reflects the integrative aspect of third wave feminism.
As such, activists and community members will play an integral role within this conference. We wish to facilitate meetings between family members of women who have disappeared from Mexico and Saskatchewan. As well, we are engaged with groups in Saskatchewan and Mexico who are already actively seeking justice about this issue. Panel discussion will serve as a space for public dialogue and convergence of action. In addition, Elders will be involved in the opening and closing ceremonies, and spiritual guidance and counseling will be provided throughout. The curator of the Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, an aboriginal artist, has been commissioned to contribute an art piece to The University of Regina’s ‘Healing Gardens’ as a monument to those who have gone missing and as a commitment to bring justice to bear on this.
Our vision is focused on the outcomes of this conference, as bringing together people from diverse communities and locations who share this concern has endless possibilities for learning and action. Our planning group wishes to forge continuing connections amongst those in our community, local and global who recognize the urgency of this issue and who will commit to make this a top priority in their own activist and theoretical lives. Our aspiration is that this conference be a model for academics, faith-based organizations, and activists all working closely to bring awareness and resolution to such great injustices. Luther College, University of Regina, is uniquely situated to do this integrative and interdisciplinary work. We will call on the participants to propose specific goals for their own affinity groups.
Specific outcomes currently anticipated include:
a public (media) presentation of a nation-wide petition for a full investigation into and resolution of this problem.
documentation of the event in the form of a DVD and a written account for the purpose of knowledge transition and exchange for secondary and post-secondary educators.
preparations to host a second conference in another two years to discuss the progress made towards a healthy and safe Aboriginal community
To date, funding has been secured from the Saskatchewan Department of Justice. However, more funding is required to support this International conference. If you or your organization would like more information, please contact:
i Although the issue of missing indigenous women is not unique to Canada and Mexico, this particular conference is focused on these two countries.
ii The ‘Sisters in Spirit’ campaign is an initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), aimed at bringing awareness to the high rates of violence against Aboriginal women in Canada.
iii The “ELCA Immersion Programs in Mexico City,” is a project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The Immersion programs bring students from around the world to Mexico to investigate the reasons behind the abhorrent and frequent disappearances of indigenous women, in particular in Juarez and now in Guatemala.