missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
For Canada’s unions, it’s a labour of love.
The disproportionate violence experienced by Indigenous women in Canada – and the fact that more than 1,100 Indigenous women went missing or were murdered before a national inquiry was called – is one of our deepest national shames.
Since 2005, families and allies of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have called on the federal government to hold a national public inquiry to examine the root causes of the violence and to identify solutions.
Several of Canada’s unions had enshrined Indigenous representation in their structures in the early 1990s and these activists and working groups urged their unions to get involved on this issue out of a commitment to fairness, equality, and justice.
Canadian unions made the issue a priority, launching petitions and actively lobbying government to take action. Unions also supported the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Sisters in Spirit project, such as by encouraging union members to attend annual vigils, and assisting Indigenous women to bring their voices to UN bodies to raise international awareness.
One of the most devastating areas where cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women have taken place is British Columbia’s infamous “Highway of Tears” (Highway 16). When Greyhound applied to reduce service along this route, making safe transportation even scarcer, unions like CAW (now Unifor) and local labour councils called on the government to reject the cuts.
On August 3, 2016, the federal government finally launched the long-awaited inquiry, and union representatives stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and other allies to respond to the terms of reference.
“We want to acknowledge our many allies throughout the last 11 years, including the other Indigenous national organizations who were advocates for an Inquiry. And in particular our non-Indigenous allies. Our friends at Amnesty International and KAIROS Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives who have been with us since the beginning in 2003 when they used their resources to give voice to this issue….and finally the unions that fall under the umbrella of the CLC, most particularly UNIFOR, who provided us with financial and moral support. Thank you to our allies,” said NWAC President, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, at the news conference.
NWAC highlighted some key concerns with the plans for the inquiry and unions are continuing to stand with them to ensure government hears these concerns.
“We welcome the fact that the government has finally called this inquiry and has committed to ensuring it examines the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, such as racism, sexism and misogyny. But we need to make sure the government gets it right.” – Canadian Labour Congress President, Hassan Yussuff.
Canada’s unions also recognize that the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is linked to the intergenerational legacy of residential schools, as outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report.
Canada’s unions have supported the work of the TRC by taking part in reconciliation walks, and educating union leaders and members on the legacy of residential schools and other key issues affecting Indigenous peoples today, like access to safe drinking water.
The Canadian Labour Congress is also working on framework for action to support unions to act on the TRC report recommendations.