Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Girls Commissioner Michele Audette speaks during a press conference at the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak office in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski

Online threats, racism causing fear for Indigenous women: MMIWG commissioner

A commissioner wonders if Indigenous women feel any safer with threats levelled during recent anti-pipeline protests

Michele Audette feels disappointed when she looks online and sees a barrage of violent threats towards Indigenous women.

“It made me so mad that we tolerate this. There’s no real … reprimand,” says Audette, who was one of the commissioners for the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

As she gently places her eight-month-old grandchild into her vehicle in Quebec City, Audette explains that she understood it would take time for governments and society to work towards the more than 200 recommendations included in the inquiry’s final report last June. The report called violence against First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and girls a form of genocide.

Audette had hoped the work would mean a better and safer future for children such as her granddaughter.

She wonders if Indigenous women feel any safer, especially with threats levelled during recent anti-pipeline protests, rail blockades and demonstrations.

In many of those cases, she feels that women are more often targets than men.

“Here again, status quo. We are not safe,” she says.

“For me, in 2020, it’s unacceptable.”

Bardish Chagger, Canada’s minister of diversity, inclusion and youth, has called racist taunts and threats directed at Indigenous people following recent protests horrible and ignorant. He says many Canadians are unaware of Indigenous history and rights.

Erica Violet Lee, a community organizer from Saskatoon, says the treatment of Indigenous people in Canada has always been violent.

When they speak out about issues, ”Canadian politeness” crumbles away, she says. It was similar during the Idle No More protest movement, which was started by four women in 2012.

“When Indigenous communities and nations exercise our inherent right to self-determination, we become troublemakers, ‘bad Indians,’ who don’t respect the Canadian rule of law,” Lee said in an email.

“But Cree laws and the laws of our lands say that we have a responsibility to act in situations of injustice and environmental devastation.”

Lee recently attended a demonstration at a Saskatoon rail line in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to a natural gas pipeline on traditional territory in British Columbia. She says some men began yelling at young protesters to jump in front of the trains.

She says she and the youth were called everything from “stupid” to “terrorists.” They also received death threats.

“How do we respond to that? We keep living,” Lee says.

During the pipeline protests, it was common to see online comments encouraging drivers to run over protesters. One photo showed blood on the front of a train with a laughing face emoji.

The SooToday news website in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., citing a rise in racism, closed its comment section on Indigenous stories in February.

“We have read your ignorant ramblings, your subtle, but hurtful racism,” editor Mike Purvis wrote in an editorial. “We have moderated your thinly (and not-so-thinly) veiled threats of violence.”

Uttering threats is a criminal act. RCMP spokeswoman Catherine Fortin said in an email that a ”hate-motivated incident,” such as name-calling or racial insults, may not reach the threshold of a criminal offence, but can still be reported to police.

Nickita Longman, a Saulteaux woman from George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, says it has been inspiring to see Indigenous people across the country come together in protests, but it has come with alarming backlash.

The longtime activist and organizer, who lives in Winnipeg, says the most concerning aspect of online hate and threats towards Indigenous women is how often it goes unchallenged.

The cross-Canada demonstrations have for the most part been peaceful, she says, and women will not be swayed by threats.

“Until our inherent rights are recognized and respected to the fullest capacity, we will continue to resist,” Longman says.

“It is important to continue because our resistance has the capacity to dictate the future for generations to come.”

Her main concern is online rhetoric moving offline.

“The more these comments find space on the internet, the more they embolden people to act on them in person.

“As an Indigenous woman, that is by far the scariest part.”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

IndigenousMissing woman

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kelowna glider pilot crashes in the Columbia Valley

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the circumstances of the crash

MP Morrison pushes for accountability following federal fiscal update

Kootenay-Columbia parliamentarian says it is time to restart the economy

Sculpture stolen from Cranbrook Arts Alley Gallery

The Cranbrook Arts Council is asking for the sculpture to be returned, no questions asked

RCMP confirm fatality in Bootleg Mountain biking accident

Kimberley RCMP have confirmed there was a fatality in a mountain biking… Continue reading

No serious injuries reported after head-on collision near Fort Steele

Traffic was stopped for several hours on Highway 93 while police investigated.

B.C. records 62 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths since Friday

Province has just over 200 active cases

‘Trauma equals addiction’ – why some seek solace in illicit substances

Part 2: Many pushed into addiction by ‘toxic stress,’ says White Rock psychologist

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

Tree planters get help with COVID-19 protective measures

Ottawa funds extra transportation, sanitizing for crews

Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE decision

He says his and his family’s longtime involvement with the WE organization should have kept him out of the discussions

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Most Read