The Way I See It: It’s time to take a stand

Michele Blais says violence against women is unacceptable, and it's time to recognize that lives have value, all women deserve to feel safe

As a mother, woman and a human being, the significant number of murdered and missing aboriginal women is unsettling. Violence against women is outrageous no matter your heritage, skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, ancestry, social and economic status. It crosses all of these and is universal, and it is universally outrageous.

According to the RCMP website, violent deaths against non-aboriginal women are on the decline between and on the rise for aboriginal women.  “Police-recorded incidents of aboriginal female homicides and unresolved missing aboriginal females in this review total 1,181 — 164 missing and 1,017 homicide victims.”

This is our history and these are our sisters, daughters, cousins, mothers, friends, colleagues, neighbours.  The more I read to prepare to write this column the more I found myself having a physical reaction to what I was reading.  That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you are seeing or reading something horrible.

I want us to feel horrible and to have that sick feeling in our stomach when we learn about violence against women, against anyone. I fear we pass over this and just come to accept just another First Nations woman, missing or murdered, just another gang death in Surrey. Just another is someone’s child, parent, sibling, friend, cousin, a human being worthy of love, compassion and opportunity.  We are all connected as human beings.

As it Happens on CBC radio has been running a series of interviews on the missing and murdered aboriginal women told from a personal human perspective to put a face to the story.

I believe that every Canadian should learn about the horrors of the residential schools; how the Indian Act managed to disempower native women, and the ‘60s scoop where native children were placed in white foster homes.   How these and other government actions have had a significant impact on First Nations people. Like it or not, this is our history and to move forward we must understand the past: the good, bad and the ugly and what was done to the First Nations people is the ugliest.

I met with Mollie Bono to talk about this column and she suggested we also need to look at what is happening in our own communities before someone is murdered or goes missing.

What can we do to keep our women safe, and secure? What stops women from speaking out about violence is the belief that they don’t matter, or that nothing will be done.  They need hope that they will be listened to and responded to. As a community we need to respond and speak out, report, and aid in the search, coming forward as witnesses, working with police and agencies to help.

I think in Vernon we are always hopeful that we are working together and making a difference. If you want to see change, be part of the change. Every letter, post card and phone call that you make to your MLA or MP counts as more voices than yours. If we can develop a safer community for all women then other communities can too, and it starts with one, and it builds from there.

We need the housing and services for the people who need it. Empowerment, employment, training, support, whatever the individual needs to feel safe, strong, in control is what our community can work towards offering. The individuals and services need our support. We are all members of the village that helps our children grow to be strong adults and as adults we continue to benefit from that village. We need each other.

I know that violence will continue to happen, stupid random acts as well as planned pre-meditated horrific acts. When it does, don’t flip the page as your read about it, pause and think about it and what you can do.

If we as a society take a stand we will save lives.

Michele Blais is a longtime columnist with The Morning Star who has worked with families and children in the North Okanagan for the past 29 years. Her column appears every other Sunday.