Indigenous women Verna Benson, second right, and Veronica Rose, right, both of the Gitxsan First Nation, attend the third annual Women’s March in Vancouver, on Saturday January 19, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Report about violence against Downtown Eastside women calls for change

Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors makes 35 recommendations

A group on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside says Indigenous women need to be included in leadership and decision-making positions in governments and other organizations if violence against women is going to stop.

It’s one of 35 key recommendations made in Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The report was released by the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre on Wednesday.

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Co-author Harsha Walia said that although the report is based on input from 113 Indigenous and 15 non-Indigenous local women, it shouldn’t be considered in isolation.

“Even though this work is located very much in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, we’re very clear that it’s located in the context of colonization across these lands,” Walia said.

“Our most pressing recommendation that all 128 collaborators and participants were unanimous on was active Indigenous women’s leadership in all levels of decision making and full Indigenous jurisdiction over Indigenous lands and services and laws,” she said.

Walia said that would mean the full adoption of the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Other recommendations include safe housing for every single Indigenous women on and off reserve, an end to all child apprehensions, a slew of legislative reform, and the establishment of an Indigenous women’s centre on the Downtown Eastside run by and for women.

The 220-page report comes as the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is expected to release its own final report this month.

Inquiry chief commissioner Marion Buller had requested a two year extension last year, but the federal government allotted six months.

The Vancouver women’s centre has standing in the inquiry and is submitting the report to the inquiry for consideration.

Walia said the report is unprecedented because it is rooted in the experiences of women on the Downtown Eastside, the neighbourhood where serial killer Robert Pickton found many of his victims.

She said the report also looks at a range of issues beyond physical violence: from housing and poverty to policing and child apprehensions.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says the report is “timely,” as it comes the day after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, who is Indigenous, was ejected from the Liberal caucus.

Reconciliation has to come from the grassroots up and not the top down, he said, which is why the recommendations of a report based on contributions from so many women on the Downtown Eastside should be taken seriously.

Several of the report contributors said they don’t know what to expect from the national inquiry, but it’s important for the recommendations to be concrete and not abstract, and for the federal government to actually act on them instead of allowing them to gather dust on a shelf.

Sophie Merasty, a Cree contributor to Red Women Rising, said she doesn’t expect an overhaul of the system to occur overnight, but she expects legal changes.

“Some serious laws need to be changed and the way the justice system is served to Indigenous people,” she said.

Merasty said her sister was killed on the Downtown Eastside in 1991 when she was pushed from a window and fell to the alley below. Her perpetrator was convicted of aggravated assault instead of manslaughter and he was released from custody after six months due to time already served, she said.

Change will involve addressing issues like the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in prisons and the “astronomical” number of Indigenous children who are removed from their families and communities, she said.

Report co-author Carol Muree Martin said Indigenous women need to heal, while the Canadian culture that stereotypes and disrespects Indigenous women needs to change.

“It’s so thick within this Canadian system. We all need to roll up our sleeves and start doing something about it,” she said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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