Last week, the Globe and Mail published the following headline and newstory:
“Fear of retaliation stops native women from filing rights complaints, commissioner warns”
According to the story:
“What we learned,” wrote Mr. Langtry in his annual report released Tuesday, “is that for many of them, particularly in remote communities, the Canadian Human Rights Act is meaningless. They are unlikely to seek its protections, they say, for a number of reasons, including fear of retaliation.”
But lawyers working in the area of aboriginal justice said the Canadian human-rights regime can be somewhat ineffective on reserves where chiefs and council members don’t view themselves as being accountable to outside legal regimes.
Some aboriginal women told the human-rights commission they fear that the mere act of lodging a complaint against the police or powerful members of their communities will leave them without access to important health and social services or could lead to intimidation and acts of violence.
“Truth be told, some leaders are offenders of violence against women,” one of the native women told the commission. “It’s so entrenched, many women live in fear. That is our sad reality, and it’s tough.”
One of the big conundrums for students of Aboriginal policy in this country is what should the role of the state be with respect to Indigenous communities. A popular position among Indigenous scholars is that the Canadian state should have little to no role and there are good reasons why they have taken this position. You don’t need to be a scholar to come to this conclusion! All you have to do is look at the Indian Act, residential schools, Canada’s history of treaty-making and implementation, to understand why some Indigenous people would be suspicious and wary of the Canadian state.
On the other hand, it is stories like these ones that convince me that sometimes there is a role for the Canadian state. In the ideal world, Indigenous communities are able to manage and solve these problems themselves. Indeed, many Indigenous cultures, traditionally speaking, were led by women, or at least had very strong gender equality and/or equity. But, due to a variety of factors, including colonialism, that tradition has been lost and replaced with something much more sinister and violent. In those situations, I wonder whether the ends justify the means? In other words, it may be that the only option available in the short term is protection from the Canadian state, either in the form of legal mechanisms or legal actors.