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Justice for Indigenous women: an interview with activist Wanda Whitebird

Valerie Lannon

June 6, 2014

Wanda Whitebird, of the Bear Clan, is a member of the Mi’kmag Nation from Afton, Nova Scotia. She currently resides in Toronto, and has been active with No More Silence for ten years.
SW: Can you tell us about No More Silence?
WW: We are partners with Families of Sisters in Spirit and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.  Both native and non-native women founded NMS in Toronto, from a mutual concern about violence against women. People in Toronto are probably familiar with the February 14th memorial that we organize each year, as a ceremony of remembrance. We chose February 14th to coincide with the date used by the group in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. And we chose the Toronto Police station (headquarters on College St.) to make a statement, so that we are combining ceremony with a demand for justice.
SW: Why did you get involved with No More Silence?
WW: I care about these women and I have met families of the survivors. This is something where I could help because of my knowledge of ceremonies, which I’ve been doing all my life. The use of ceremony is very inviting and comfortable for people.
SW: What did you think of the recent RCMP report on missing and murdered Aboriginal women?
WW: I have to wonder, why trust them? Why did they release the report now?
SW: What are your thoughts on the call for a national inquiry into the many cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women?
WW: As to whether there should be an inquiry should be up to the families of the survivors. These families want help and they want an understanding of what went wrong. When police say there has been “no foul play” it doesn’t explain what actually happened. It seems police don’t care enough to do a proper investigation.
SW: What are the main messages you and No More Silence want to get out to people?
WW: Harper’s government made an apology about residential schools, but Harper won’t acknowledge the role of the state in the past genocide of Indigenous people. So I encourage people to recognize and spread the word about the real history of this country, not an altered version. The truth is not taught in the schools, for example, how reservations originated and how there was no choice for our peoples. The media does not say enough about our survival and resistance.
SW: Can you tell us about the role of allies in this campaign?
WW: Allies are very important so that the families of survivors know that they are not alone. Support from individuals and organizations is key and we want to hear from everybody.  Allies take direction from Indigenous women, as we decide what’s best for us. But we are given good information from our allies too.  It’s important that allies don’t have their own agendas and that we recognize our shared interests, because there’s nothing new about violence against women. We have February 14th as a memorial day and you have December 6th.
SW:  How do you think justice will be achieved for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women?
WW: We can’t bring the murdered women back but we need to reveal the truth about what happened with them. All different kinds of media need to report on this. How many more women have to die before people will care?  When will the government tell the real history, instead of telling new immigrants that Indigenous people are basically dead?  Everyone needs to acknowledge that Canada was indigenous land originally and that Canada killed Indigenous peoples in order to acquire the land. We learn all about European history but not about Indigenous peoples.
SW: Any final thoughts?
WW: People need to search their hearts to understand and find the real truth about the tragedies that have happened. Admitting the real history of Canada will free you and your family from the secret, and will not threaten you. Rather than only fighting discrimination towards Indigenous peoples, embrace their beauty and understand their worldview, living with nature. We destroy the land in the name of “being better”, but we have to think of tomorrow.
You can hear Wanda Whitebird’s talk, “Indigenous Resistance: Justice for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women”, at next week's conference Marxism 2014: Resisting a System in Crisis. For information and to register visit

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