Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls

Missing Women Rally

In Canada, official statistics have consistently documented at the national level what is highlighted above in the Intimate Femicide in Ontario study: Indigenous women are significantly more likely to be killed by male partners than non-Indigenous women in Canada. In fact, Indigenous women and girls are overrepresented as victims of femicide more generally. For example, about four percent of the Canadian population is Indigenous and female yet they represented 24 percent of homicide victims in 2015. Despite their higher risk of intimate femicide, however, some research shows that Indigenous women and girls are also often killed by male acquaintances and strangers.

This fact was brought to light by the Sisters in Spirit grassroots initiative launched in 2005 by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) who documented that, by 2010, over 580 Indigenous women and girls across Canada were murdered or went missing. Among the findings was that Indigenous women and girls were more often killed by male acquaintances or strangers than by male partners, although official statistics indicate that they remain eight times more likely to be killed by male partners than non-Indigenous women.

The initial estimate of femicide documented by the grassroots initiative has risen to almost 1,200 since the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) began investigating the issue following the Sisters in Spirit campaign. After repeated calls for an inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous women and girls, the Canadian government launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2016. The mandate is to report on systematic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women.

The Sisters in Spirit initiative highlighted various systemic issues including the impunity of many of the perpetrators, similar to what is being documented in other world regions. Their study found that nearly half of the cases involving indigenous women and girls remain unsolved and no charges were laid in about 40 percent of the cases. These figures continue to be contested and debated by others, including the RCMP, who reported clearance rates that were much higher, ranging from 80 to 100 percent. The proportion of those that resulted in charges or convictions is not currently known.

Regardless, it is now recognized, most recently in the inquiry’s interim report, that the high risk of violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls stems, in large part, from a failure of police and others in the criminal justice system to adequately respond to, or provide for, the needs of Indigenous women and girls.

Femicide can be used to describe the killings of indigenous women and girls. Given the role of racialized violence and the documented impunity of some of the perpetrators, the term ‘feminicide’ which has become more common in Latin American countries may also be appropriate given that it is meant to capture the impunity of perpetrators and the inadequate state responses to these crimes. Because gender remains an important determinant of their risk of lethal violence in some contexts compared to Indigenous men, femicide has been used to describe these killings.

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