The Anglican Church of Canada has pledged to help break the silence about the plight of missing and murdered aboriginal women, even as it urged its faithful to uphold victims, their families and communities in prayer.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald highlighted their cases as they commemorated the Feast of the Annunciation and recalled the vocation of Mary of Nazareth. “Christian art often portrays her receiving and holding [Jesus’] body with all the love she ever had for him. It’s a fitting image as we reflect on the recent release of the federal government report, Invisible Women: A Call to Action, a report on missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada,” they said in a joint statement.
Hiltz and MacDonald endorsed the report’s recommendation to engage First Nations communities in examining how front line services for victims of violence can be improved on reserves. They also expressed support for the call for a nationwide public awareness and prevention campaign on violence against aboriginal women and girls in Canada. Such a campaign must also address the root causes of violence, including unemployment, poverty and addictions, they added.
However, Hiltz and MacDonald also said that the report “falls short of completing the circle of concern,” because it does not recommend a comprehensive public inquiry despite mounting calls made by First Nations leaders, communities, members of the opposition, and the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people. The Assembly of First Nations has described the report as “disappointing.”
Released March 7 by the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women, the report made 16 recommendations, including the implementation of a national DNA-based missing person’s index and the collection of police data on violence against aboriginal women and girls.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada has put the number of known cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women and girls at 668, but the number could be as high as 800, they noted. The number of domestic violence targeting aboriginal women is “at least twice what it is in the general public,” they said, adding that many aboriginal women are also trafficked and exploited through the sex trade.
“These statistics are staggering and behind each one is a family in grief,” they said. “For some, there is consolation in being able to receive a body, to hold it with love and bury it with dignity. For others whose daughters are reported as missing with no trace for years, and in some cases not ever, there is no opportunity for closure.”
The report also highlights the lack of services and protection available to aboriginal women living on reserves or in isolated communities. It cites the urgent need to address the lack of shelters and continuous police presence in aboriginal communities.