Rise in domestic violence involving indigenous women amid COVID-19 crisis.
This article was written for and published in The Big Edition newspaper, a branch off the Kamloops This Week news giant and publisher.
No More Stolen Sisters beaded medallion by Makwa Ikwe Designs as they travel on Highway 16, or the Highway of Tears.
During the last few months, a crisis has arisen within the COVID-19 pandemic, with rates of domestic violence skyrocketing across the nation, but more specifically, against indigenous women.
According to the federal government’s 2017 Gender Based Violence assessment, indigenous women in Canada are three times more likely to experience abuse and domestic violence than non-indigenous women. This has been documented even further in the two extensive volumes into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls national inquiry. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the number of indigenous-related domestic violence cases has only gone up.
The COVID-19 crisis has hurt communities in countless ways, and not all impacts can be seen on the surface. Many women across Canada are now trapped in their homes with their abusers, faced with stress of job loss, health concerns, and financial burdens. With social isolation regulations, they do not have the same opportunities or resources to avoid violence like they did before. Women’s shelters are either closed or already full, public places are no longer open or social, and there are strict guidelines to minimize contact with people outside of your home.
Since the pandemic outbreak has erupted in Canada, the Native Women’s Association (NWA) has begun preliminary nation-wide consultations with indigenous women regarding domestic violence. In a CBC interview, NWA President Lorraine Whitman says the numbers are “shocking” and that the results deeply concern her. Within the early stages of their report, a pool of over 250 indigenous women have indicated that at least 1 in 5 women have been a victim of physical or psychological violence over the last 3 months. The preliminary survey reports and consultations suggest that even more women are concerned that they may become a victim of abuse in the future. This indicates a substantial increase in domestic violence due to stressful circumstances within a confined household.
According to the Gender Based Violence assessment, it is thought that approximately every 6 days a woman is killed through domestic violence. This is an approximation that is not reflected by the Statistics Canada, because according to an investigative journalist from the Globe and Mail, these domestic homicide cases are not being labelled as such. These homicides have a pattern of targeting vulnerable minorities, such as indigenous women, immigrant women, and young girls. The national inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls reflects a large percentage of those cases. Two separate databases show that during the timeline of 2016 to 2019, there were 3 cases of suspicious homicides per month involving an indigenous female.
Readers may be curious as to why this topic is important for the Kamloops region, but it is a necessary topic to discuss. According to a 2016 federal census, and a TRU research paper on Regional Demographics and Population Trends published in 2019, 11% of the population in the City of Kamloops consists of people who openly identify as having an indigenous background. That number works out to over 10,000 residents within city limits. The indigenous demographic is most likely to be even higher due to the last official census being conducted four years ago.
It is important to remember that Kamloops is home to many indigenous people, and statistically speaking, nearly half of them will be women. Not only does Kamloops lack resources for live-in women’s shelters and safe spaces for women, but the places that do exist may not have the cultural focus that indigenous women may require.
Indigenous women facing domestic violence and abuse have a different context and perspective that they live in, and simply placing them in any women’s shelter may not properly address some of these complex issues that come with their background. These women are the victims of decades of colonial violence. They have been reduced to sexual objects, considered burdens on society, and been subjected to trauma that many people may never have to face in their life. To place these women in the same category as any other ethnic background would be doing them a disservice.
Providing indigenous, or at the very least, culturally aware contacts for these vulnerable women to speak to and work with within Kamloops would be a simple way to support these women. Trauma cannot be treated with a one-size-fits-all mentality, and it is vital that the people who work with indigenous victims of abuse are aware of the complex circumstances these women are subject to.
The first step to protecting vulnerable populations is making sure that there are accessible and available resources for them. Introducing indigenous-led programming or safe spaces in the city would increase current support networks. This type of programming would ensure that there are places that are prepared to handle their clients with the proper discretion that is needed for the complex circumstances that accompany them.
During this unprecedented time, people in Kamloops need to be assured of their personal safety, and this includes indigenous women who may be living in agitated households. Looking forward, the city of Kamloops and Tk’emlups Indian Band should consider expanding culturally appropriate and accepting programming. The population within the city of Kamloops continues to grow, and with that grows its indigenous population.
In the meantime, though, the KUU-US Crisis Line can be reached toll-free at 1-800-588-8717. Alternatively, individuals can call direct into the Youth Line at 250-723-2040 or the Adult Line at 250-723-4050.
Furthermore, the Battered Women’s association helpline also runs 24/7, and can be reached at 604.687.1867 or toll-free at 1-855-687-1868, but if you’re unable to speak safely, please text 604-652-1867 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.