Aug 4, 2014 - Website to document missing/murdered Native women launched By Brandon Ecoffey
*This article was first published in the Native Sun News
TORONTO—Amidst wide spread government intrusion and an epidemic of murder and kidnapping of Indigenous women, First Nation people in Canada are finding ways to address these issues by decolonizing their world and institutions. The launch of a new website designed to document incidents where Indigenous women have been murdered or are missing looks to do both.
On Thursday of last week, www.ItStartsWithUs-MMIW.com, went live. The site is a first of its kind website that will allow for indigenous community members from across the continent to document, raise awareness, and remember female victims of violence.
“The launch of this website is an outcome from many community conversations with impacted families and individuals affected by colonial gender based violence,” the site’s founders said in a release.
The site that is the product of a cooperative effort between No more Silence, Families of Sisters in Spirit, and the Youth Sexual Health Network will provide a more accurate accounting of those who have been murdered or are missing according to its creators.
“Concretely the idea came out of a national meeting in April of 2013, and that is because there had been so much confusion about the numbers,” said Audrey Huntley, founder of No More Silence. “We only had the number of 582 which was put together by the Native Women’s Association of Canada but everybody knew that number was way too low. So the impetus for the database really came from two things, wanting to have certainty in the numbers, and just believing that we cannot trust government institutions to do the work for us.”
She said that the one government run database had its funding cut and is no longer in operation this forced community members to create their own.
Huntley would add that the website itself was a product of a larger effort that she and others were part of for years to raise awareness about the high rate of violent crimes against Indigenous women.
Recently the Royal Canadian Mounted Police released a report that placed the number of missing or murdered Indigenous Women at least 1,200. The number however is not accurate according to some indigenous rights representatives who have estimated the number to be closer to 1,400.
The act of creating institutions crafted and run by Indigenous people has become part of a larger decolonization process undertaken by many First Nations people as they look for ways to empower their communities.
The launch of the website was planned in conjunction with the anniversary of the death of Bella Laboucan-Mclean. A young woman whose death was initially ruled a suicide after she fell to her death from the 31st story of a hotel in Toronto. The family has pointed out inconsistencies in the evidence and feel that foul play contributed to her death.
The website is giving them an outlet to provide an accurate portrayal of Bella and a way to hold the police department accountable.
“For us as a family it helps us to have a different type of platform to communicate who my sister was without the media portraying her in a certain way and I felt hat it is important for a lot of the families,” said Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a sister of Bella’s. “It’s a way to empower the families and it helps people stay up to date as well as show another side for us and our family.”
In a release announcing the launch of the website Melina, was harsh in her criticism of law enforcement.
“Our family still does not have answers from the Toronto Police about Bella’s death which is still listed as suspicious. We appeal to anyone with information to come forward with answers. We urge the Toronto Police to investigate her death as if Bella were part of their own family and not just another police statistic. This new website and database gives families like ours the ability to not only document the lives of our loved ones but also commemorate and celebrate their lives and achievements,” she said in a statement.
Brandon is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who earned his education at Dartmouth College. He is the managing editor of Native Sun News and a contributor to LastRealIndians.com. He has been published globally and also works as the Life and Current events editor at Native Max Magazine.
(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Copyright permission Native Sun News