by Abaki Beck
This Friday’s Feminist Hero is Jody Wilson-Raybould, the new Minister of Justice in Canada. She is a lawyer, activist, and politician. She is also an indigenous woman of the Kwak’wala First Nation. It cannot be understated how profound it is that an indigenous woman is a Minister of Justice in Canada, at a time where the tragedy of murdered and missing indigenous women is becoming more known in mainstream Canadian culture. Wilson-Raybould will oversee the national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women.
Before assuming this position, Wilson-Raybould was a lawyer. Her work has centered around environmental justice, the rights of indigenous people, and strengthening the relationship between indigenous governments and the Canadian national government. She is also a former Assembly of First Nations regional chief and was involved with the 2012 First Nations-Crown Gathering, a meeting between the Prime Minister and First Nations leaders. Her grandmother, Ethel Pearson (Pugladee) and her father Bill Wilson (Hemas Kla-Lee-Lee-Kla) were both well known activists in Canada as well.
In December 2015, the Canadian government launched the first ever national inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper received a lot of criticism for his complete lack of response or even recognition that these murders constituted a national crisis. Over 1,200 indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in the past three decades. Indigenous women make up 4% of the Canadian population but 16% of all murder victims. The national inquiry is said to last five years, with the first stages already beginning. For the first two months of 2016, the government will consult with victims families and indigenous leaders to help them design the inquiry, which is said to begin later in the spring.
It is rare that indigenous leaders are represented on a national level; even more rare that an indigenous leader is in charge of addressing major indigenous issues. Indigenous issues are so often “solved” by non-indigenous people in government, or are ignored completely. We celebrate today not only Wilson-Raybould’s incredible success in being recognized for this powerful position, but also her regular dedication to indigenous, environmental, and other social justice issues. I would also like to specifically highlight her position as a politician and activist - two words that somehow are rarely paired. Many young people, myself included, tend to distrust or even reject politics as a point of change. Many believe that we must fight against - not with - politicians for justice. So often, this is true. Our governments, whether in Canada or elsewhere, were not set up to empower or even respect many people in society, particularly indigenous people and people of color. However, we must also recognize that activists like Jody Wilson-Raybould can exist in any profession. We need allies in all fields, and allies do exist in all fields, even if we can’t always see them. While she is just at the beginnings of her career as Minister of Justice, I hope that her career will be marked with empowerment and justice for indigenous women.
Below, please find resources related to murdered and missing indigenous in Canada:
Community run support group for families of murdered and missing indigenous women
An organization that supports the social, cultural, and political well being of Native women in Canada. They also organize around violence against women and sexual exploitation.
Amnesty International Canada's task force focused on murdered and missing indigenous women.
Task force that works with U.S. tribal nations to address the legal and jurisdictional issues with preventing violence against women.