I woke up in the middle of the night the other night – something that’s not unusual for me, particularly when my body is still trying to adjust its clock from a trip overseas. After not being able to get back to sleep for a few minutes my typical course of action is to reach for a book, so that’s what I did. I’m in the middle of reading a wonderful book called, “The Hate U Give,” which tells a story of racism in the US through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl after injustice touches her life in a tragic way. The book has me thinking a lot about systemic racism in the United States, particularly in the law enforcement and justice systems, but also in the smaller, everyday places, like within and between neighbourhoods and friends.
On the night I couldn’t sleep, for whatever reason, before starting in on the book, I decided to scroll through Instagram. The first post that came up was this:
If you aren’t familiar with the name Tina Fontaine, she is yet another example of Canada’s failure for Indigenous children, youth, families and communities. A 15-year-old, found dead, and the accused acquitted in court this week. But more than being an example, Tina was someone’s daughter. Someone’s niece. Someone’s friend. She was loved.
Having experienced a close family friend’s murder without true justice or closure, I have some sense of how the details of a beautiful person’s life can be reduced to a horrible story in the minds of the media and public. How the impact of not only the death, but also the lack of closure can rip people and families apart. How it has power for years beyond the initial splash in the media. I know more than the average Canadian and more than anyone should have to know of the grief that murder brings. I know just enough to recognize that I cannot even imagine the pain of those closest to murder, particularly if that pain continues to be amplified and multiplied throughout Indigenous communities across Canada, like it has for Tina’s family and the families of other missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.
An RCMP report released in 2014 concluded that 1,017 women and girls identified as Indigenous were murdered between 1980 and 2012—a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada. Although these statistics are already appalling, Amnesty International states that for various reasons they may not even show the full picture. For example, the report does not include cases considered unexplained or suspicious, and it has been noted that police in Canada do not consistently report the Indigenous identity of victims correctly.Every broken system stems from broken relationships between individuals. Click To Tweet
As I consider these things in light of the book I am reading, I’ve realized that we are kidding ourselves if we think we don’t have a racism problem here in Canada. It can be easy to look at some of the glaringly obvious issues of our neighbours down south, but let’s be honest – Indigenous people in Canada face the same sorts of systemic injustices as the kind I’m reading about the US in, “The Hate U Give.” Our law enforcement and justice systems are weighted against Indigenous communities and individuals, and the horrifying statistics of missing and murdered women are just one example – there are almost countless others. (Google “systemic racism in Canada” for a taste.)
As a country and as individuals, we need to acknowledge this. And we need to work towards reconciliation. If (and when) another horrible injustice occurs to another Indigenous woman or girl, think as if it had been your loved one. Let your heart break and let yourself be enraged, because murder is enraging. Participating in a broken system that benefits some at the expense of others is enraging. And then channel that rage back into restoring and reconciling your part in the broken relationship that colonial Canada has with its Indigenous people.
Every broken system stems from broken relationships between individuals. Ask yourself plainly and prayerfully, “How do I benefit from the current system?”
“How does my participation in broken systems perpetuate distance and lack of understanding between myself and Indigenous Canadians?”
“How can I better be a conduit of reconciliation of broken systems rather than benefiting from them?”
“Where is God pointing out brokenness in the form of racism or prejudice in my own heart?”
Connect with local grassroots organizations and people working for justice, or larger ones like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Learn about the indigenous people, communities and history in your area. Learn about and listen to what’s going on in the National Inquiry of Murdered and Missing Women and Girls, which is happening right now.
The day the trial ended with an acquittal, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North said it was a, “tremendously sad day for our people… The systems, everything that was involved in Tina’s life, failed her. We’ve all failed her. We as a nation need to do better for our young people.” And she’s right. It was a sad day – not only for Indigenous Canadians, but for ALL Canadians. And we do need to do better. ALL of us. And, as another Indigenous leader, Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said, “If we want to talk about making our society great we have to do it together. Do not let things divide us, let’s do it together.”
So, let’s do this – and let’s do it together. Because there is no other, there is just us.