Jody Leon (right), an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, prepares to offer a smudge to the people gathered for a candlelight vigil in 2018 in honour of Nicole Bell and other missing or murdered women in the area. (File photo)

Jody Leon (right), an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, prepares to offer a smudge to the people gathered for a candlelight vigil in 2018 in honour of Nicole Bell and other missing or murdered women in the area. (File photo)

Read it, act on it: Shuswap First Nations react to national report on missing women

Citizens urged to look at Calls for Justice from National Inquiry and take action

Read the report and take action.

That’s the recommendation of two Secwepemc women who have dedicated countless hours to pursuing justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and their families across Canada and in the Shuswap.

The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released June 3 and contains 231 individual Calls for Justice to specific segments of society as well as all Canadians.

Jody Leon, who has been advocating for missing and murdered women for years, as well as organizing searches in the Shuswap, says the report is very comprehensive, outlining the systemic erosion of Indigenous women’s value.

She points to the section on the RCMP’s treatment of Indigenous women as an example.

It gives a voice to Indigenous women, she says, if RCMP are not respecting them or taking action to find women who are missing and murdered.

“The one-year anniversary, the two-year anniversary. Time is going on. Each of those things is hard for the family, hard for the community, hard for the world. These women have gone into a void.”

Leon appreciates the call for a special crime task force to address missing women.

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A Splatsin member, Leon urges, “Let’s see police out here checking on women. Let’s see them out here shutting down the drug houses…”

And she adds words of caution regarding the Calls for Justice in the report.

“Don’t allow for the downplaying of those… Anytime there’s an inquiry or commission, it’s on the back of people’s tears.”

Leon asks that all people look at the Calls for Justice and take action. She notes similar issues were reported in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996.

“It’s time to stop studying and start acting… If they think it’s too cumbersome of a read, think of all the people so terribly impacted. It’s no longer respectful to let it sit on a shelf.”

“We’re citizens of Salmon Arm, we’re citizens of Grindrod. We read this and what can we do? We can start writing letters to our MP, writing letters to the judiciary, writing letters to the police commission.

“I think when they get enough input, when we say that enough is enough, that’s when you get change. When they think, ‘they’re never going to stop talking about it, about adequate resources, adequate funded resources.’ That’s when you get change.

Leon points to the importance of the report having named and advocated for the human rights of Indigenous people.

“We are worthy of respect, worthy of having people advocate for us, we’re worthy of protection.”

Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson also emphasizes the importance of all citizens reading the report.

“It’s a critical part of addressing the colonial genocide and, before people start getting taken aback by that word, they need to understand the hundreds of years our people had colonial oppression and policy and removal from our territorial lands,” she says, listing residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, day schools, the high rate of incarceration of men and women and the high representation of Indigenous children in care.

“It’s the worst form of genocide, the slow process of exterminating our people over many hundreds of years.”

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Wilson reveals that 24 years ago her sister Julia, at age 21, was the victim of a murder-suicide carried out by her partner.

“It was tragic, we lost two young people to violence,” she says, an impact of the oppression, racism and discrimination.

“That shakes you to the core. Any family that goes through that, it’s very violent and tragic. Our family is still healing.”

She adds: “There are many, many with the same story across Canada.”

Wilson emphasizes the importance of bringing justice to those women still missing, and those families who have lost loved ones. She notes that women like Jody Leon have been working to find missing women and support families without government support, which must change.

Regarding systemic oppression, Wilson points out that she, like many other First Nations, is a ward of the government.

“I’m not a real person, I live on reserve which is one per cent of our territorial land, I have a status number which places me as a ward of the government, I’m not recognized as a person, I can’t hold real land…”

She says she thinks a large part of why Indigenous women are missing and murdered stems from removal from the land.

“If we had jurisdiction over our territory we would be able to take care of our woman and children and families and have our wealth that sustains us. At the moment the government takes everything and hands out programs and services.

“It will take all of us to change this.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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Meagan Louis, Jody Leon, Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson and other drummers lead a song at a rally in 2017 in Silver Creek condemning violence against women. (File photo)

Meagan Louis, Jody Leon, Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson and other drummers lead a song at a rally in 2017 in Silver Creek condemning violence against women. (File photo)