Aboriginal women receive $500 a month for a child, foster parents $1,500 a month.

Aboriginal women receive $500 a month for a child, foster parents $1,500 a month.

September 16, 2013
ANDRÉA LEDDING
PRAIRIE MESSENGER

Gladys Radek is walking across Canada with her Tear4Justice companions on behalf of missing and murdered women, visiting communities and carrying their stories with her as she goes.

The Native Women's Association of Canada and Amnesty International compiled a list of more than 600 aboriginal women missing or murdered between 2005 and 2010, before Harper's government quashed further data collection.

Radek's database, however, lists over 4,000 aboriginal people, including males and children, and more than 3,000 women.

The average aboriginal woman has five children, she says. So thousands of children have been left orphaned by the loss of their murdered/missing mothers, or not been born at all - a generation either unborn or fostered out due to missing women.

Radek spoke at a recent potluck evening at a Lutheran church in Saskatoon put on by the local group Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik (Women Walking Together). Iskwewuk E-Wichiwitochik was formed to support the families of murdered and missing women in the local area and further afield, and to advocate on their behalf. It also provides preventive information for others.

Radek hopes that continuing to raise awareness and bring hope and healing to communities, families and individuals will lead to positive change.

Nearly 100 children, she says, were left motherless by killer Robert Pickton: 78 children dispersed to a foster care system that often fails them, perpetuating the cycles of poverty and abuse that leave women and children vulnerable to violence in the first place.

DOLLAR DISPARITY

"Aboriginal women are given $500 a month for a child, but if that child goes into foster care, $1,500 a month goes to his non-aboriginal foster parents. The Government of Canada is selling our children into care," Radek said.

Those children are not only separated from their families and communities but are often sexually, physically, emotionally abused while in government care, she said.

Radek has a solution: take care of the women and the families of origin. "Give the necessary resources to their communities and their parents to be healthy, to raise healthy children."

This lack of resources, coupled with systemic destruction of both society and territory deliberately undermines the First Nations; Radek cynically speculates that is the overt goal of the federal government.

Eliminating what First Nations people remain - what Aboriginal Affairs Minister Duncan Campbell Scott termed "the final resolution to the Indian problem" - means that all resources can be raped and disappeared from the land just as the women were and are.

Radek uses the example of Fort McMurray as a place where exploitation of land and women takes place in tandem.

Aboriginal females are frequent casualties of male-dominated resource extraction sites, she says, wondering aloud how it has come to this - that the almighty dollar and male sexual conquest/domination have become the only goals, a new religion that everyone is expected to follow.

PRIME MINISTER TARGETED

"Eight out of 10 premiers are calling for the prime minister to take action, and he has said no," said Radek.

The Tear4Justice walkers will arrive in British Columbia around Sept. 21, almost directly on the eighth anniversary of the disappearance of Radek's niece Tamara Lynn Chipman, on the infamous Highway of Tears.

Radek has a lot to say on the issue of federal government priorities.

"They will build prisons to house perpetrators, but that doesn't help victims. Perpetrators aren't jailed until they've already committed a crime. And then they are kept safe by the government.

"There are over 60 serial killers in our prison system right now, and they are under guard day and night for their own protection, while outside the prisons in our communities women are raped, assaulted, killed, go missing.

"Convicted offenders are given food, services, a roof over their heads, access to programming, while in this wealthy land we call Canada, women and children go hungry, go homeless, are victimized, are forced into terrible situations to try and survive."

She has specifics on the kind of change needed besides providing resources for the vulnerable: a federal action plan with awareness and prevention as a priority. As well, systemic causes and their underlying racist roots need to be addressed.

It is a system, she notes, which has discriminated against aboriginal women since colonization began.

VOICES SILENCED

"We were a matriarch-led society, women were leaders and their voices were honoured and heard. And now our voices are being silenced."

So Radek continues to lobby for those whose voices have been silenced.

While many communities send support as the Tears4Justice team passes through, along with donations, drivers, walkers, and flags from their nations, what Radek and the other walkers always carry with them are the stories from the families of the women who have disappeared.

"We want safety for aboriginal women, and all women," she said. "We need the support of organizations like Status of Women, our First Nations leaders, we need everyone's voice."

Auction for Action, an online auction organized by supporters of Tears4Justice, along with the upcoming art exhibit Walking With Our Sisters - an installation of almost 2,000 vamps, or moccasin uppers, to commemorate those who have gone missing, beaded and worked by hundreds of women - raised over $30,000 in 20 days with more than 300 items donated by supporters.

The proceeds were split three ways, between Tears4Justice, the art exhibit and an Ottawa-based support group for families of the missing and murdered.

The art exhibit, an initiative which began with Métis artist Christi Belcourt, is booked to tour over 30 destinations across North America in the next six years. Gladys, meanwhile, continues her walk for justice.


Letter to the Editor - 10/07/13