Cuthand: Justice is demanded for Indigenous women and girls


From the very roots of European contact with the west, fur traders and others viewed native women as inferior and easy prey.

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November 13 was one of those days we wish we never had to remember.


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50 years ago, Helen Betty Osborne was brutally murdered in the town of The Pas, in northern Manitoba.

She was a 19-year-old native woman from Norway House, known today as Kinosao Sipi. She was attending high school and was planning to become a teacher. On the night of November 13, she was targeted, kidnapped and murdered. She was the victim of a group of four white men who beat and stabbed her 50 times. Four people were involved, but it took 16 years to press charges against three, and only one was jailed.

It was as if the community rallied around the killers and protected them. It has become a clear example of the racism and violence that resides in Manitoba and, by extension, the rest of Canada. The CBC produced a TV movie called “Conspiracy of Silence” which illustrates how the community came together to protect four violent killers.

It turned out that indigenous women had long been targeted and murdered. From the very roots of European contact with the west, fur traders and others viewed native women as inferior and easy prey.

The Cree word for women is “eskwew” which has turned into a pejorative “squaw”. This word eats away at me the same way the N word has become doomed among African Americans. This indicates that we are a sub-human species and therefore we are not viewed in the same way as God-fearing whites.

It makes its way through the culture and reinforces the sense of white privilege that allows a community to rally around the killers and protect them from a justice system that is sort of two-tiered, and they are the first. .


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Helen Betty Osborne’s story came as a shock when it happened, but it turned out that there was a lot of Helen Betty Osborne. Women were disappearing on the Highway of Tears in British Columbia; in Saskatoon, a serial killer targeted native women and lashed out. Across the country, Indigenous women and girls were missing and found dead. Northern communities were shocked as young women returned home in coffins.

The community dysfunction created by residential schools and colonialism also made life dangerous for Indigenous women and girls. Lateral violence and sexual abuse were common in residential schools. This lateral violence has been transferred to communities and has resulted in the death and injury of many women and girls. Today, communities grapple with this legacy and make improvements through healing ceremonies and counseling.

Sadly, communities outside still live in denial and refuse to address the legacy of racism and white privilege that is endemic in their society.

In 1988, the province launched the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry led by Justices Alvin Hamilton and Murray Sinclair. The report was commissioned to examine the depth of racism in the Manitoba justice system.

In the final report released in 1991, the judges concluded: “In almost every aspect of our legal system, the treatment of Aboriginal people is tragic… The treatment that Canada accorded its first citizens has been an international disgrace.


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Thirty years later, the same words still apply. We have received the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the calls to action from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. These valuable reports give governments a roadmap to correct years of racism and neglect.

The Prime Minister is a big proponent of reconciliation, but so far it is mainly an exercise in symbols. Creating special holidays to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day and Residential School Survivors is all well and good, but it only scratches the surface.

If you want real reconciliation, attack the justice system, reduce the number of our people in prison, equalize sentences and juries, and fight the systemic racism that exists in federal and provincial institutions.

The symbols will not change in the long run. We must go to the roots as stated in the many commissions and inquiries.

The legacy of Helen Betty Osborne and all missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls demands that governments step up their efforts and create meaningful change to end the pain and suffering our people have lived with for generations.

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