In the last three decades, 18 women have disappeared along Highway 16, a road that runs through remote and impoverished parts of British Columbia; nearly all of those women are indigenous. More women have disappeared since the 2006 statistics cut-off, and activists say that the official number—18 dead girls or women—is far too low. They argue that the number is closer to 50 missing women and girls, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are too quick to dismiss these deaths; too quick to determine suicide or alcohol as the cause of death, rather than look for foul play.
The New York Times reports that Canada’s Highway 16, also called the Highway of Tears because of its association with missing indigenous women, is a microcosm of the violence that affects the country’s aboriginal women. Via the Times:
The Highway of Tears and the disappearances of the indigenous women have become a political scandal in British Columbia. But those cases are just a small fraction of the number who have been murdered or disappeared nationwide. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have officially counted about 1,200 cases over the past three decades, but research by the Native Women’s Association of Canada suggests the total number could be as high as 4,000.
In December, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opened an inquiry into the disappearance of the indigenous women and girls, the results of which are still pending. That inquiry, however, is part of Trudeau’s broader campaign to “renew” Canada’s relationship with its indigenous citizens. Though the country has promised $31 million (U.S.) to the efforts, it’s hard to imagine that generations of disenfranchisement, discrimination and poverty could be easily repaired.
But the violence against indigenous women and its subsequent handling (or mishandling) by the Candian police is a subject desperately in need of repair.
The Times reports:
Aboriginal women and girls make up about 4 percent of the total female population of Canada but 16 percent of all female homicides, according to government statistics.
The indigenous community says that the Canadian police mishandle missing persons reports. Matilda Wilson, a member of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, told the Times that the police ignored her calls about her missing teenage daughter, Ramona, telling Wilson that the girl would likely be home soon. There was, according to Wilson, no search and no consolidated effort to find the girl. Ramona was found dead nearly a year later.
The treatment of indigenous women is so bad that, last year, the United Nations said that Canada was violating their human rights:
A United Nations report last year described measures by the previous government to protect aboriginal women from harm as “inadequate” and said that the lack of an inquiry into the murders and disappearances constituted “grave violations” of the women’s human rights. Failures by law enforcement, it added, had “resulted in impunity.”
It’s a sad story, as stories about states throwing away the lives of indigenous women and girls generally are, but it’s worth reading in full.
Image of Highway 16 via Getty.