Indigenous women more likely to experience violence if they were children in care: report


Frontline workers are calling for more support for Indigenous families after a Statistics Canada analysis found that First Nations, Inuit and Métis women are more likely to experience physical or sexual assault during their life if they were cared for by the government as children.

The report, recently published in Juristat, indicates that 63% of Aboriginal women have been victims of violence and nearly half — 46% — have been sexually assaulted.

The analysis found that 81% of Aboriginal women who had been in the child welfare system had been physically or sexually abused in their lifetime.

Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte is Co-Chair of Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik, which means “women walking together” in Cree. The Saskatoon group has been supporting the families of missing women for nearly two decades.

Okemaysim-Sicotte spoke with many women about how violence permeated their lives as children in care.

“Their experiences of trauma and violence began young by being taken from their families and then placed in abusive foster homes,” she said.

The analysis indicates that the violence as a whole is linked to the historic and ongoing trauma of “colonization and related policies aimed at erasing Indigenous cultures and dismantling Indigenous families and communities.”

Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte is Co-Chair of Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik, which means “women walking together” in Cree. (Radio Canada)

Certain characteristics of a person’s life increased the risk of experiencing violence, including being in care as a child.

Indigenous women were almost six times more likely than non-Indigenous women to have been in government care as children, the report said.

Indigenous children are overrepresented in care

In Canada, 52.2% of foster children are Aboriginal, although they represent approximately 7.7% of the total child population.

There are approximately 10,000 children in care in Manitoba alone. About 90% are indigenous. This province has been called ground zero for the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Cora Morgan, First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said apprehending a child is inherently a violent act.

“The most violent act you can commit against a woman is to steal her child.”

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls heard from many people who experienced violence and loss of identity while in care. They also shared how they were significantly hurt when their own children were abducted.

The final report of the inquiry links the national crisis to the child protection system.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz is president of the National Family and Survivors Circle. It brings together Indigenous women from different walks of life who are developing a national plan in response to the Inquiry.

“This publication highlights the urgent need for immediate action by all governments to prevent further violence against women, girls and children. [LGBTQ] people,” Anderson-Pyrz said in an email.

Anderson-Pyrz said there is evidence that many Indigenous women and girls who have disappeared or been murdered were taken from their families as children, resulting in trauma and destabilization leading to a higher likelihood of experiencing violence.

More Changes Needed: Advocate

In 2020, the homicide rate for Indigenous women was more than five times that of non-Indigenous women.

That same year, the federal government passed legislation to overhaul child welfare by giving Indigenous groups jurisdiction over their own children. Many First Nations and other Indigenous groups are establishing frameworks of authority over child and family services. A handful already have jurisdiction.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz is president of the National Family and Survivors Circle. She says there is evidence that many Indigenous women and girls who have disappeared or been murdered were taken from their families as children. (Submitted by Hilda Anderson-Pyrz)

The Canadian government has a responsibility to ensure Indigenous families are not harmed, Anderson-Pyrz said.

“Systems need to focus on broader goals of wellness, healing and helping families to reconnect, culture and language rather than interventions with children,” she said. .

The Statistics Canada report found that other characteristics, including disability and housing insecurity, were also linked to a higher likelihood of violence among Indigenous women.

Additionally, Aboriginal women were more than twice as likely to report having little or no confidence in the police compared to non-Aboriginal women.

Okemaysim-Sicotte said she was encouraged that there are changes across the board to make women safer.

But, she says, more needs to be done.

“Tragedy still happens daily.”