On the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry

Now that the inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW) has been released only the most callous reactionary can pretend that the violence faced by Indigenous women is not endemic. The numbers are clear and indicate a pattern that cannot be dismissed as coincidental or the result of random criminals victimizing vulnerable individuals. The fact that MMIW, being endemic, is generated by the structure of Canadian settler-colonialism is recognized by the inquiry as central to the phenomenon. Early in the report the inquiry states: “racism as being at the heart of the colonial structure, representing a core cause for the violence faced by Indigenous communities.” This claim is consistently reasserted which is quite surprising to find in a government sponsored document. The only question is what does this claim mean for the Liberal government, and indeed any Canadian government, especially when it comes to the measures the inquiry recommends for ameliorating this tragedy.

Before going further we should note that the public hand-wringing over the inquiry’s use of the term “genocide” to describe the fact of MMIW––and thus Trudeau’s refusal to use this word––is reprehensible. The pitiful claim that deciding what word is appropriate should be left to academics is senseless considering that the Liberal government, and others making this claim, are quite happy to use that word where it is inappropriate, along with a whole host of debated terms contested by academics, and whenever they feel like it––so why not here? The inquiry is clear on the academic and legal definition of the word. Moreover, those who claim that the numbers of MMIW aren’t high enough to warrant the use of the word “genocide” clearly have no idea why it would be used or what settler-colonialism is in the first place. The historical process that established the settler state of Canada and maintains its hegemony is genocidal. If we want to limit the term to the notion of mass deaths in a short period of time (which is what these people are claiming, and which is not an academic definition of genocide) then we already have evidence of that with the clearing of millions of Indigenous people through the outright colonial violence that founded Canada as a white ethno-state. Linked to this blood-drenched founding event is the fact that in the hundreds of years since then racist violence, carried out by multiple colonial institutions, has persisted in the wiping out and marginalization of Indigenous nations. The thousands of disappeared and/or slaughtered Indigenous women and girls is part of this genocidal process, just as institutions such as the late Residential School System were, as are so many other aspects of Canadian day-to-day settler-colonialism.

Hence it is appropriate to call the fact of MMIW genocide because it is part of a genocidal process that stretches back to the early days of colonialism. Those committed to the Canadian settler-state do not like to admit this fact. The more “enlightened” of these genocide deniers might admit that genocide happened in the past (but only if they have to admit this truth) but that this past, lamentable as it was, is something Canada has grown beyond––nothing counts as genocide anymore if it could even be counted as such in the first place! What they cannot accept, because it will undermine their assumption that Canada is fundamentally progressive and tolerant (especially compared to its neighbours to the South!), is that the spectacular genocide of the past is ongoing, has been institutionalized, and now persists in a sustained and creeping manner. Sometimes through institutions, sometimes through the settlerist ideology that is terribly common, sometimes through seemingly criminal and lumpen processes. Perhaps Justin Trudeau could not admit that this is the case because he is well aware of the normalization of genocide that is the life blood of the Canadian settler state. After all, his dad’s government was responsible for the infamous White Paper which sought to abolish “Indian Status” and convert residential lands into private property.

So we must ask this question: what can the Canadian settler state do about a problem that is the result of the Canadian settler state? The Liberals cannot even admit that the fact of MMIW is a genocide, and their actions have so far pursued precisely what the inquiry claims is central to the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women and children. The Liberal government has worked hard to maintain the colonial system and has pursued the development of the pipe-line through Indigenous lands, demonstrating that it cares very little about ending the context that produces murdered and missing Indigenous women and children along with other atrocities visited upon colonized peoples.

But even if the Liberal government actually cared about this tragedy (which is doubtful since Trudeau cannot even call it a genocide while, at the same time, his government pursues the pipe line and other anti-Indigenous policies), and this was not some political football on their part, what would it matter in a context where another government could soon be elected? Would a government that did not launch this inquiry be bound by whatever the Liberals proposed if they propose anything at all?

Obviously a Conservative government would care less about MMIW. The Conservatives have always been more pro-colonial because it’s part of their Canadian patriotic brand. At least they’re more honest about Canadian settler-colonialism than liberal hypocrites; at least we know that they’re the enemy. And the current composition of the Conservative Party is even more openly reactionary than Harper’s neo-conservatism. Andrew Scheer has demonstrated that today’s Conservative Party is fine with white nationalists. He has even shared the stage with white supremacists such as Faith Goldy who likes to start her talks by mocking Indigenous land claims by “recognizing” the “traditional lands” of European settlers. The current Conservative attitude is closer to the traditional mindset of the settlers that established Canada as a white ethno-state. We cannot expect them to care about this inquiry since they seem more than happy to pursue the genocidal policies of Canadian colonialism.

The NDP would seem to be the government poised to care about the inquiry’s revelations since they are supposedly “left” of the Liberals. But the NDP is also dedicated to the existence of Canada as Canada and there is nothing in the NDP’s platform that recognizes full Indigenous sovereignty, which is to say complete national self-determination. The NDP has never shown itself willing to accept the end of Canadian colonialism since such an acceptance would mean the end of Canada as Canada and thus the end of NDP governance. At best they treat the violence experienced by Indigenous people as a “civil rights” problem when it is nothing of the sort: it is a problem of colonialism and the NDP would remain a colonial government. When the NDP politician Rachel Notley was the premier of Alberta she supported the pipe line on Indigenous land. It also needs to be recognized that the social welfare systems of the NDP under Tommy Douglas, a foundational member of the modern NDP, created the basis for removing Indigenous children from their families, which was adopted on a mass scale during the Sixties Scoop. As a result, the modern child foster services in Canada, which continues to be ineffective in protecting Indigenous children like Tina Fontaine, carries a lineage of responsibility from the colonial assimilatory practices of the CCF to its NDP spawn.

Perhaps the only bourgeois party that has seriously accepted the findings of the MMIW report is the Green Party. But despite the Green Party having the most progressive stance of these parties in terms of relations to Indigenous peoples and Nations, it too fundamentally fails to call for the full self-determination of Indigenous Nations. The Green Party suggests nothing to ensure that Indigenous Nations are free from subordination to the Canadian state: no call that suggests stolen land must cease to be part of Canada; no call that supports sovereignty that is otherwise denied by the colonial legal system itself. Instead the Green Party continues to push for the reconciliation of the colonized with colonialism rather than an end to the latter.

Here is not the space to assess in detail the variety of solutions proposed by the inquiry. In general it is worth noting that some of them would require a very different approach to Indigenous sovereignty than any Canadian government would be prepared to extend, i.e. full sovereignty or full national self-determination. This is not a solution that the Canadian government, no matter what bourgeois party holds its reins, is prepared to give. Some of the other suggestions concern policies for Canadian police services which would be meaningless even if they were formally adopted since the pigs have always been complicit in colonialism and racism. The guardians of bourgeois order are part of the problem of MMIW––we should not forget how many pigs were complicit in the Robert Pickton horror show––because they are trained to defend Canadian settler-colonialism just as much as they defend Canadian capitalism. We have no problem with the increased repression of enemies of the people but those whose primary function is to defend the colonial-capitalist order of Canada are precisely these enemies of the people.

If Canada persists as a settler state––if it persists as “Canada”––then its genocidal policies will also persist. Violence delivered upon the most vulnerable members of colonized people will remain normal as long as colonialism is normal. What the inquiry regarding MMIW implies, even though it does not say it outright, is that no Canadian government is capable of delivering justice on this issue. We can only atrocities such as MMIW if we end the atrocious Canadian settler state.