An RCMP report published in late June 2015 created backlash against the Indigenous community regarding MMIW because it linked family violence to MMIW, suggesting the problem lies within our families. Their report failed to mention the lack of attention paid by our justice system to the plight of Indigenous people, especially to that of Indigenous women in Canada.
Some people in authoritative positions believe that Indigenous women are lesser people; and this perspective is ingrained in the historical fabric of our culture. Take Hank Thompson’s country hit single “Squaws Along the Yukon” published in 1958. This single made it to #2 on the US Country charts and had people across North America singing:
“Ooga ooga mooska, which means that I love you
If you’ll be my baby, I’ll ooga ooga mooska you
Then I take her hand in mine and set her on my knee
The squaws along the Yukon are good enough for me”
Look up the song on Youtube and you’ll see comments like “Love this music, I grew up with it and am glad to still be able to listen to it today” or “I made my first dollar singing this with my Father’s band when I was 5 years old.” An artist using slang terms to deride women from another community wouldn’t fly today, but this song remains a “classic” to some.
It is these “some” who are the topic of this discussion, and those who are in direct positions of authority that allow the problem of MMIW to persist. While many issues in the community are an ongoing battle, MMIW is one that affects the leaders of our community who have historically been and currently are our women.
Within the Dakota nation, a matriarchal society, women were the ones who made decisions. Their power included the family lineage, as offspring would take their last names. This is the case with my last name, which is my mother’s.
Taking the Dakota perspective on women in leadership positions, we see Indigenous women continuing to take on such positions in the area of education. Women in general are outpacing men in education, but this trend is pronounced in the Indigenous community. Last year at the University of Manitoba’s graduation powwow, it was plain to see that the nearly everyone graduating was female.
It was at the graduation powwow that I spoke on behalf of my mother, Wendy Whitecloud, who had won a Migizii Award, which acknowledges university staff members who go above and beyond for Aboriginal students on campus. My mother’s journey is one of becoming the first high school graduate from her reservation, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, to being one of the first Indigenous women in Canada to graduate from law school.
Her journey also includes the perspective that comes from living in a time when Indigenous people were told: “Indians are not allowed here.” The resiliency of my mother and other Indigenous women is what will carry us forward. It is time for a public inquiry into MMIW, and for everyone to learn how to ensure our leaders are respected.