Liberal MPP Sophie Kiwala spoke to a Queen’s Religious Studies class Wednesday about issues of violence facing Aboriginal women in Canada unaddressed by the federal government.
Kiwala, who was elected as MPP for Kingston and the Islands in June, is fighting to create awareness surrounding these issues, specifically for the disproportionate amount of violence that Aboriginal women face, in the hopes of creating effective change.
She spoke to RELS 227, “Religions of Native Peoples”, on Wednesday afternoon.
She said Canadians have consistently failed to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in areas such as health care, education and quality of life.
Kiwala said the homicide rate for Aboriginal women and girls in Canada is almost seven times higher than it is for non-Aboriginal women and girls. Additionally, Aboriginal women and girls are three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
Kiwala gave several reasons as to why this is the case. Legacies of colonialism — specifically residential schools to which Aboriginal children were forcibly taken and at which they were unable to speak their native languages and were often the victims of sexual and physical abuse — have resulted in an ongoing pattern of poverty, violence and drug and alcohol abuse in these communities, she said.
She said Aboriginal people live in some of the most impoverished areas in Canada, some of which don’t even have adequate access to clean water.
Many Aboriginal women make attempts to escape these often dire living conditions, and are murdered or go missing in the process.
Kiwala also spoke of the steps the government is taking to address some of these issues.
On Oct. 23, the provincial Parliament voted unanimously to support Kiwala’s private member’s motion, which called on assembly to support the National Aboriginal Organization’s call for a national public inquiry into missing Aboriginal women and girls.
When she spoke to the Journal after her speech, Kiwala said this motion won’t result in a provincial investigation, but she hopes it will garner attention from other provinces so they can collectively push the federal government to start an inquiry.
“It wasn’t related to Ontario provincial government doing an inquiry — we have a few separate initiatives that we’ve taken part in but we’re still asking for the federal government to have a national inquiry,” she said.
“The next step now for me is to ask the other provinces and territories to bring forward a similar motion, and the hope is that if the federal government sees that they have motions brought forward by all provinces and territories, that they will be much more inclined to do this.”
Anne Reid, who attended Kiwala’s presentation, said the presentation was sincere and informed, adding that the issue is in dire need of attention.
“The issue of the missing aboriginal women has far too long been placed on the back-burner at the federal level,” Reid, ArtSci ’16, told the Journal via email.
Reid said she was personally inspired to create change by the recent rape and attempted murder of Rinelle Harper in Winnipeg.
“If students who have been informed of the historical significance of such an issue as well as the personal anguish of those involved can help in any way — we will,” she said.
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