Why wait for Harper to address aboriginal violence?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has unveiled his action plan for addressing the high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has unveiled his action plan for addressing the high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. The action, as such, is to make a long list of every federal program that could conceivably be said to touch on the issue, count up all the dollars committed to these existing programs, and then announce this spending, stretched across five years for a more dramatic final tally, as if it’s something new.

That’s just a long way of saying that Harper plans to do nothing at all, beyond what’s already being done. Many of these programs seem worthwhile, but it’s dishonest to present them as if they’re a new, co-ordinated response to the issue, which is how Conservatives like our MP, Ryan Leef, make it sound.

Leef, of course, is in a tough spot, as someone who promised to advocate for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women on behalf of Yukoners. The government has offered its plan – which, it’s worth repeating, is to do absolutely nothing new – as an alternative to this scheme. Leef now says he needs to chat with his constituents about this new plan. What are the odds of them being won over?

A forthright approach for the Conservatives would have been to say that they believe they’re already doing plenty of things to improve the social conditions of aboriginal Canadians, and here’s a big list of existing programs to prove it. Or, if the Harper government wanted to buttress its argument that it values action over talk on this issue, it could have pledged to spend the cost of a federal inquiry on new programs over several years. That would have been a real action plan, if the government had wanted to brag about one.

Instead, Harper won’t even dignify this issue with a serious response. This is disappointing, if unsurprising. Harper, after all, recently declared during a visit to Whitehorse that the matter of missing and murdered aboriginal women was simply a matter of hunting down criminals, and was not a “sociological phenomenon.” Inconveniently, many of the programs included in the so-called action plan deal with the broader social issues that Harper idiotically insists have nothing to do with the matter.

But the Conservatives aren’t wrong about everything on this issue. They’re right that it’s no mystery why a disproportionate number of aboriginal women end up missing and murdered, and that a federal inquiry is unlikely to shed much new light on the issue, which has already been thoroughly examined in previous reports. Poverty, addictions, the legacy of residential schools – the familiar tangle of interconnected social woes – play a big part in why aboriginal women – and men, for that matter – are more likely to face violent deaths.

Leef is also correct to say that if other jurisdictions see this as a pressing issue, they could do more than holler at the federal government about it. He’s suggested that other governments could pay for an inquiry, but, following the Conservatives’ own logic, wouldn’t it make more sense for local governments to create their own action plans instead, for the lack of a real one being produced in Ottawa?

You could say this is particularly true in the Yukon, where our territorial government has a big budget to spend as it sees fit, and all but three of our First Nations are no longer under the thumb of Aboriginal Affairs. If there’s a consensus among Yukon’s leaders that more should be done on this file, why not do it ourselves? If it’s a pressing aim to improve the social conditions of aboriginal Yukoners, why lay blame entirely at the feet of a prime minister who was never elected on a platform of tackling intractable social problems, and shows zero interest in doing so?

Here’s one way about it. Yukon’s chiefs and our premier could convene a Yukon Forum with the aim of creating a real plan of their own. The forum rarely meets anymore, presumably since the premier dislikes being ganged up on by chiefs who rarely see eye-to-eye with him. Well, here’s a problem that all involved agree is intolerable. Obviously, there is no single, simple solution – but if more needs to be done, then let’s do more.

Maybe each leader could present a single new idea his or her government plans to introduce to help improve the lives of First Nation women in their communities. The group, as a whole, could then pick one project that stood out, and vow to roll it out across the whole territory.

One promising idea, used successfully in the Northwest Territories, is to create a video in which former abusers talk about how they learned to abandon violence. Those speaking in the N.W.T. video, critically, are all aboriginal men. Here in the Yukon, anti-violence campaigns are too often led by privileged white women and men, who, however well-intentioned, face barriers of race, culture and class when trying to engage with aboriginal communities.

Another idea worth replicating is the community safety project started by the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, which brought RCMP, government and community organizations together to try to build trust between residents and authorities. Abused women in Yukon’s communities often fear speaking to police. Building this trust takes time.

These ideas are borrowed from Cathy Richardson and Allan Wade, partners in the Centre for Response-Based Practice, a B.C. group dedicated to helping victims of violence. They recently visited the Yukon to share some ideas. They probably have plenty of others worth cribbing.

It’s possible that launching these new projects may not even cost our local governments much, as a large chunk of the existing federal money for such things is to be doled out as grants. Leef is keen to see the Yukon grab as much of this dough as possible. Perhaps the Yukon government could also help local First Nations, many of which are under-staffed, to produce as many smart grant proposals as possible to tap these funds.

If dealing with this issue is a real priority of our territorial leaders, of course, they’ll find a way to pay for these projects, even if Ottawa fails to cough up more cash, by cutting some of the more frivolous programs if needed. That’s how governments pay for real priorities.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

adsf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Josi Leideritz, the executive director for the Yukon Quest International Association (Canada), poses for a photo in Whitehorse on Oct.1, 2020. The Quest announced plans for its 2022 race to start in Fairbanks on Feb. 5. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2022 Quest planning gets underway

Race would begin Feb. 5 in Fairbanks

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read