Sisters in Spirit


http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/3764 by Angela Sterritt VANCOUVER—Ten million dollars set aside by the Harper government to address the crisis of missing or murdered Aboriginal women will be redirected to the Department of Justice and the Ministry of Public Safety. And that has some groups, like Vancouver’s Walk 4 Justice, fuming. “We have the answers and tools already because we’ve been working on this issue for a long time,” said Gladys Radek, a co-founder of the Indigenous-led campaign. Radek was jolted into action when her niece, Tamara Chipman, disappeared in 2005 along Highway 16 in northern British Columbia. She has since organized three walks—the first a 4,000-kilometre march from Vancouver to Ottawa in the summer of 2008—to press the federal government to initiate a public inquiry and deal with the root causes of violence against Indigenous women. “This funding will do nothing to address the issue,” she said. “This is about power and control again.” Eight months after the 2010 budget release of promised funding, Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose announced the money will be spent on seven different initiatives, the bulk on a national police support center for missing persons. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) quickly expressed their alarm. “While NWAC is supportive in principle to see the Government of Canada taking steps to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, we must undoubtedly express our disappointment with the exclusion of Sisters In Spirit in the ongoing development of public policy in the matter,” they stated in a release. The Conservatives kept Sisters in Spirit—NWAC’s research, education and policy initiative that deals with missing and murdered Aboriginal women—in limbo for eight months, and then gave NWAC only a day’s notice before the announcement was finally made. Status of Women officials made clear to NWAC that any new funding proposals would not permit the use of the Sisters in Spirit name or the continuation of their groundbreaking and growing database. Since 2005, Sisters in Spirit has been gathering complex statistical information on violence against Aboriginal women. It has shown that more than 582 Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada since roughly 1980. Twenty of the cases have occurred in the past year, and 226 in the past 10 years. Such information was previously scattered and highly deficient. Liberal MP and Official Opposition Critic for Status of Women, Anita Neville believes the Conservative government’s move was deceptive. “It was a duplicitous announcement,” Neville said. “Ambrose framed it as ten million going towards Aboriginal women but a good deal is going to their own justice systems, not Aboriginal women. Sisters in Spirit was told...

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By Sarah Harrison If we stop gathering information, the problem will go away. Or at least, this appears to be the Conservative government’s reasoning. On Wednesday, November 3rd the federal government announced that Sisters in Spirit, an advocacy group for Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women, will no longer receive funding unless they a/ quit working on their internationally acclaimed database, b/ don’t use government funds for research and policy, and c/ change their name to “Evidence and Action”. It appears to me that there is a trend in Ottawa to de-fund organizations and programs that collect data valuable to social (justice) work in Canada. Sisters in Spirit is only the latest in what is becoming a laundry list of information de-funding. Throughout 2010 the Conservative government has refused to release documents concerning torture allegations of Afghani Detainees, has scrapped the mandatory Long Form Census, and has attempted to eliminate the Long-Gun Registry. Each action involves limiting and denying access to information on issues of significant social concern. I can only speculate on the reasons behind Harper’s decisions to limit or eliminate data collection and information availability (power? control? punishment? all of the above?). But I can suggest what some of the results may be. Without information it’s difficult to identify problems and substantiate critiques. Facts, statistics, patterns and trends are all compiled from sources like Sisters in Spirit database. Without agencies retrieving and compiling the information problems are difficult see, let alone to prove. Context is missing. Restricting independent research and access to information leaves an issue susceptible to propaganda, with no historical or social context to be drawn upon. We are reduced to anecdotal evidence, short-term thinking, and hyperbole. De-funding becomes punishment. Cutting or restricting funding based upon a group’s information gathering puts a chill on criticizing or questioning the government. Social justice, Aboriginal and women’s groups have already felt the silencing effect of de-funding data collection. No need to argue. When groups that compile data are restricted or cut, the public looses access to valuable information. Simply erase the problems by eliminating the information. The result? A government that no longer has to formulate an argument to address criticisms. Cutting the Sisters in Spirit project may be framed as a minor budgeting decision. But understood in relation to this government’s previous efforts to silence information, this project represents two major issues the Harper government doesn’t want anyone to speak about: women and Aboriginals. Thankfully, history shows us that no matter what those in power do, women and Aboriginals refuse to go...

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http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2010/11/04/moon-setting-on-sisters-in-spirit/ By Jorge Barrera APTN National News The Conservative government is opposing the use of the name Sisters and Spirit and any work on a groundbreaking database on murdered and missing Aboriginal women cases if the Native Women’s Association of Canada expects to receive any funding for new projects on the issue, sources say. The Conservative government has been slowly “smothering” the Sisters in Spirit project which is responsible for bringing to national attention the hundreds of “shocking” cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women, sources familiar with the file say. During discussions around a new Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) project on mudered and missing women, department officials have said rules around the funding’s source program prevented the use of government money from research and policy work. They have asked that funding proposals not include the name Sisters in Spirit or any plans to use the money for the database, sources say. A spokeswoman for Status of Women said they were still awaiting the proposal. Nanci Jean-Waugh, however, said she could not immediately answer questions on whether the department had imposed conditions on new funding. Politically, it appears the Conservatives have now turned the page on Sisters in Spirit. “That project was finished. Don’t mix apples and oranges,” said Conservative MP Shelly Glover, parliamentary secretary for Indian Affairs. “That project was finished, now we’re working with them to pursue other projects.” Only last Friday, Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose singled out Sisters in Spirit during the government’s long-awaited $10 million announcement on a national strategy to deal with murdered and missing women cases. “The journey truly began with an initiative called Sisters in Spirit that was led by the Native Women’s Association of Canada,” said Ambrose, during the announcement in Vancouver. “The association has undertaken an incredible amount of research…and they have brought to light the shocking extent of these horrendous acts of violence.” The Oct. 29 announcement highlighted the creation of a new police support centre for missing persons, along with promised amendments to the Criminal Code to allow police to wiretap without warrants in emergencies and obtain multiple warrants on a single application. It also promised funding for community-based projects on violence against Aboriginal women and enhancing the cultural sensitivity of victim’s services. It was criticized by some front-line workers, victims’ families, academics and opposition politicians over its lack of focus on Aboriginal women and its emphasis on giving more money and power to police. NWAC, however, publicly endorsed the strategy and the Conservatives have since invoked the 35-year-old organization’s name as a shield against criticism of the announcement. Yet, over several months, the...

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By Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press OTTAWA — The national research project that brought the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada to the forefront quietly ended Wednesday when its five-year mandate from the federal government ran out. Organizers are still hopeful the Sisters in Spirit initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada will be reborn. However, for the time being the group’s focus has shifted to searching for other partners. “Today is the end of funding,” said Sisters in Spirit director Kate Rexe. SIS was created in 2005 with a five-year, $5-million commitment from the federal government to address violence against aboriginal women, including increasing public awareness. SIS researchers have compiled a database of more than 520 aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing in Canada since 1970, more than half of them since 2000. Rexe hopes the next phase of the project will be able to address crime prevention and victimization of aboriginal women with particular community-level programs. She has had some good meetings with federal officials, including from the Status of Women office, but there is no funding commitment yet. “There’s been a lot of pressure alleviated,” she said. “After the budget government departments were allowed to start talking.” Ottawa did commit $10 million to the issue in the recent budget but there has been no suggestion yet where that money will be spent. Rexe said the Status of Women office, which originally funded the research project, no longer has a mandate to fund research and that has made the negotiations tricky. Liberal Status of Women critic Anita Neville said the government’s argument Status of Women doesn’t fund research anymore is ridiculous. “It’s consistent with this government’s lack of appreciation for the importance of research,” said Neville. She anticipates whatever plan the government announces with its $10 million will be heavy on crime and punishment and light on responding to needs and wants of aboriginal communities. Story...

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Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press: Saturday, February 13, 2010 OTTAWA — Missing and murdered women in Canada will be remembered Sunday in memorial that marches across the country. But the occasion may also become a memorial for a government-funded research project that put a spotlight on the hundreds of aboriginal women who have gone missing or were murdered in this country. Federal funding for the Sisters in Spirit initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada runs out March 31, and the federal government has not given the group any indication whether its mandate will be extended. “We haven’t heard anything,” said Sisters in Spirit director Kate Rexe. “The government is silent on the issue.” With a grant of $5 million, Sisters in Spirit has spent the past five years compiling a database of more than 520 women who have disappeared or been killed over the past four decades. The group has developed policies and programs it says are meant to help stop the cycle of violence. Rexe said the agency is prepared to begin implementing policies and community programs aimed at three specific areas — the justice system, child welfare and poverty. But that’s been on hold for months because Ottawa won’t say if it plans to keep funding the work. “It’s unbelievably frustrating,” Rexe said. “We have all the knowledge, the momentum. We can actually start to implement change, but we don’t even know if we can keep planning.” A year ago, Status of Women Minister Helena Guergis said she was working on extending the project. “I want you to know, I’ve already engaged in the process of what Sisters in Spirit Two would look like,” Guergis said at the Status of Women committee meeting Feb. 12, 2009. But a spokeswoman for Guergis would not say Friday whether funding for Sisters in Spirit is forthcoming, and said in an e-mail Ottawa has asked NWAC to share its database with police.
”Research conducted by SIS thus far has been aimed at informing policy recommendations and identifying future directions. There are currently four provincial investigations ongoing which the RCMP is participating in. At Minister Guergis’ direction, NWAC will be consulting with the RCMP to cross reference their list with ongoing investigations,” wrote Emily Goucher.
She also said the Status of Women office spent $21 million since 2007 on 117 projects that address violence against women. Rexe said she’s angry at a federal government that “has been spending like drunken sailors with their economic action plan and now with a huge deficit are talking about cuts.” “We have been working for over a year to get a commitment to the life chances...

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http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Sisters+Spirit+shines+light/2142835/story.html A crusade by the Native Women’s Association of Canada is getting more recognition after a media blitz about murdered and missing women – but the federally funded program, too, is in danger of disappearing. By RANDY BOSWELL, Canwest News ServiceOctober 25, 2009 They are the keepers of the flame for more than 500 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. And their crusade has become – for the moment, anyway – the whole country’s crusade. From a cramped, west-end Ottawa office decorated with dream catchers and infused with hope, the place where a great divide is bridged between hundreds of grieving communities across Canada and the powers that be on Parliament Hill, a small team of researchers and outreach workers is trying hard not to say: “We told you so.” But the people behind Sisters in Spirit, a five-year, federally funded initiative launched in 2005 by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, have been saying all along what most Canadians are just now waking up to after a recent media blitz about murdered and missing women in Western Canada. They’ve been telling Canadians that the dead and disappeared are almost everywhere across the country; that there is no single serial killer at work, except apathy; that the tragedy runs deep into the history of aboriginal dispossession and discrimination; that jurisdictional tangles and cultural blind spots help explain why so many killings and so many vanished women have been relegated to the cold-case file. Among the startling statistics that Sisters in Spirit researchers have compiled – apart from the group’s showcase figure of 520 missing or murdered Canadian aboriginal women since about 1970 – is that the toll would be equivalent to 18,000 dead or disappeared women from all ethnic groups for all of Canada. The awareness of such facts is only dawning nationwide after a late-August splash of publicity about one of the 18 disappeared women along B.C.’s “Highway of Tears,” and a coincident push by Manitoba police to re-energize a probe into the murders of two native women in Winnipeg. The alarm blared again in early October when vigils were held across the country – including one on Parliament Hill – to remember the lost and to demand, yet again, more resources and more action to solve old cases and prevent new ones. “We’re dealing with a very marginalized, vulnerable community – I call it the cycle of distress,” says Sisters in Spirit director Kate Rexe. “It’s not just about violence. It’s health issues, housing issues, economic security, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, racism, and all of those social factors that create a situation of being...

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