An Open Letter to Canadians from an Undergrad Student

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By Emma Stelter

For generations, settler governments have been trying to break and remake Indigenous families in what is now known today as Canada.[1] We must acknowledge historic wrongdoing. Regardless of whether our ancestors were immigrants during pioneer times or immigrants today, many Canadians benefit from the state’s division of land and resources.

There is a lot of work to be done on reconciliation. Over the past three decades, there have been 1,181 Indigenous women reported as murdered and 164 reported as missing. But, the real numbers are estimated to be as high as 4,000. Indigenous women are disproportionately targeted and victimized in Canada. Indigenous women face victimization rates three times higher than that of non-Indigenous women. To make matters worse, violence against Indigenous women is infrequently reported to or examined by the RCMP.

Collectively, generations of Canadians have neglected missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). This letter is not to point fingers at any individual Canadian or at you, the reader. Instead, this letter asks you to reflect on your own thoughts and actions as a Canadian citizen. This letter asks you to identify and to challenge Canada’s colonial legacy. This letter is a call to action.[2]

What does being Canadian mean to you? Maybe it means being nice, polite, caring, open and tolerant? If so, why do we turn a blind eye when Indigenous women and girls are murdered in Canada? How can these traits be part of our shared cultural identity if we fail to challenge systemic racialized violence?

It is important to learn from Indigenous peoples about Indigenous issues because they have lived experiences that are unique to them. Where have you received your current knowledge and information on MMIW? Does your information come from Western observers or Indigenous peoples? I ask these questions because all sources are biased. I ask you to reflect on what you choose to read. Then, I challenge you to read or watch something from a different perspective. I am confident you will learn something from this experience and it might inspire you to learn more about MMIW. A database of Indigenous and Canadian newspaper articles discussing MMIW can be found here.

Next, I ask you to listen. Listen to stories from the families and loved ones of MMIW. Listen to the communities impacted by MMIW. This experience will add a human element to the headlines. It’s easy to distance yourself from the statistics (e.g. 1,181 or 4,000) that appear in the news. Listening can help people empathize with Indigenous communities and better comprehend this national issue. Where can you hear Indigenous voices? You may choose to listen to Indigenous writers by reading the Indigenous newspapers linked above. You may also choose to attend local awareness events hosted by Aboriginal Resource Centres or Friendship Centres.

Once you have listened to alternative perspectives and learned from Indigenous peoples, I ask you to show your support for MMIW. As Canadians, it’s our job to stand up against discrimination. This action could be as simple as not laughing at a racist joke or countering a negative stereotype with objective facts. Arguably, this can be the most important action a Canadian can take in support of MMIW. Taking action, no matter how small, can and will make a difference. Sadly, Indigenous women have been speaking out against this issue for decades and people have not been listening.

I want to emphasize that speaking up and speaking for are not the same. I do not ask you to speak on behalf of communities. Indigenous activists have powerful, vibrant voices. Don’t let this difference discourage you from learning, listening and speaking out. Share what you have learned.

In summary, this letter asks you to reflect on your role as a Canadian. It asks you to demand better for MMIW. If you listen to, learn about, and speak out alongside Indigenous communities, we can work towards building safer communities. Through allyship, we can work towards a better Canada.

Emma Stelter is an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph. Stelter is also Social Media Co-Manager for the I STAND #InUnity Project and is advised in this role by ActiveHistory contributor Brittany Luby. 

[1] Sarah Carter, The Importance of Being Monogamous: Marriage and Nation Building in Western Canada to 1915 (Calgary: University of Alberta Press, 2008).

[2] This call to action was inspired by Tamara Winfrey Harris’ response to prejudice in the United States. Harris suggested that “would-be allies” take 5 steps against bigotry. This letter applies 3 (learn, listen, and speak up) to the Canadian context, particularly MMIW.

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