We hear that Fist Nation women are victims of abuse on reserves. The media mainstream and even community radio will speak of violence against women at the hands of their men. We are made to feel for them, see them as victims, think poor women. They need our help. Making us Canadian women their savior. The women need me, because I come from a civilized society.
As a Canadian woman, I was not prepared mentally or physically for what I lived through at the Inquest in the death of Marcel Lemay. We were there to find out if charges could be laid and if there was enough evidence to go to trial. Yet what I saw and lived through, made me, realize the how First Nation women were treated by security guards, the police and the media. It was appalling and made me rethink what it means to be civilized.
As a children we were told to trust the police. Our mothers told us the police are your friend. They are there to protect you and make sure you are safe. Maybe true for a Canadian who is white and Francophone or Anglophone but not true if you are a Native woman or Black. At the Inquest I lost my whiteness I was no longer privileged. My skin tone did not change. My hair was still blonde and my eyes still hazel. What changed was the attitude change in the police and reporters. They assumed I was First Nation or a Mohawk whore hence a traitor to my own race. Because I had a press card from CKUT (community radio) did not sit with reporters. I preferred to speak with Mohawk women, joked around with them and sit in the unofficial Native section.
My role was to listen and take notes about what was said at the inquest. Calling in my report for the day. The next morning I would read what the various reporters said, it was quite different. I made sure that facts were accurate and not invented. Go on radio and make corrections. Some stories were invented and never occurred. I had nothing to prove, I was there to report events. As journalists and a woman, I was there to inform the public and find out if charges could be brought against Mohawks or the SQ. Let us not forget evidence was tampered with as trees were chopped down by the SQ. Was there enough evidence to go to trial? What recommendations could be made to prevent this from happening again? However, some journalists’ including women worked on the hypothesis that Mohawks were guilty and criminals. They became judge and jury and offered many invented facts. They misinformed people and caused confusion and distrust. I chose to report events and facts not put my spin on the story based on a cultural hypothesis that stigmatized Mohawk women and alienated them further.
As I lost my white privilege and of identity I was made me walk quite few miles in the moccasins of my friend. It took me many years to share what I went through, as I did not want to write out of anger or rage. Time helped me see things as they were devoid of any emotion of resentment, rage, anger, my heart is at peace. I also empathize with First Nation women, like Idle No More who want to have an investigation launched in the unexplained death of so many Native women. I empathize with the women who lost their lives on the Highway of Shame. Or the missing women from Kahnawake. I only hope that my experience can help women Canadian women understand the plight of First Nation women. The abuse they live through at the hands of men in authority. What follows is what I experience every day. I was not alone. I do not want you readers to feel sorry for me. Because I know I am strong and made stronger as a woman because of my many friends. I developed a thick skin and a sense of humor as a result.
The police greeted everyone at the door of the Inquest. Their role was to make sure no one brought in guns or knives. It was for safety reasons. Yet, the search differed between women and men who were non Native and those who were Native. Non Native women and men went through fast, the stick used was passed on their clothes. Everyone was searched every morning and afternoon. However, the stick police used to check for metal, used quite differently on First Nation women. The officer would linger and rub between the legs. Yes, the stick became a sex toy in the hands of unscrupulous officers at the courthouse.
These men got their thrills cheap thrill searching First Nation women and their friends. My reaction was I wanted to slap a guard. My friend stopped me, by putting her hand on my back. Their gross action sexualized the woman and made them feel like they were sex object and prostitutes. They acted more like pimps than police or security guards. As I kept calm I saw how historians said First Nation women were loose and wanted sex. I understood that it was men who or were loose in moral and had raped the women. First Nation women at least the older generation is shy and withdrawn because many had gone through residential schools and the sexual abuse of those schools. Many First Nation women and men had suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of teachers and people in authority in Residential schools. They learned that YOU DO NOT REACT, otherwise the beatings or abuse would be worst.
Her hand calmed me. She looked at me. Her eyes said Do not react, that is what they want. If you do they will throw you out. I understood the unspoken language, but not the depth. I was part of a community and was responsible for my actions. I was an individual in a community part of a society that had been abused. Had I hit the man or slapped him, it would have hurt my friends. I learned very fast to remain calm and let the sex pervert get his thrills. Morning and afternoon he had a smirk on his face a very arrogant sex crazed smirk and condescending attitude. He thought he was a big man, he was a little man with a delusion of grandeur. The worst or the best example of sexual abuse was yet to come.
A woman`s bathroom is for women. No men allowed. Well not at the court house in downtown Montreal. Definitely not during the Inquest. A friend and I had to go to the bathroom, we always went two by two. As a Canadian woman I am use to going to the bathroom with a girlfriend, we can gossip, talk about the guy we are dating. We talk about the guys, laugh and joke around. We even make plans to drop the losers. Yet at the Courthouse during the Inquest it was for safety and to make sure we had a witness. Just in case something happened. Something did!
A male cameraman followed my friends and I towards the bathroom. We got in closed the door behind us and he pushed it open and walked in, camera on his shoulder and film rolling. You could see the little red light flashing. What did he want, a quickie? Maybe he wanted a scoop or a Pulitzer I guess. Why else would he follow two women inside the bathroom?
My friend asked him point blank. Do you want to see my UZI? No response from the camera guy. Film still rolling. You could see the little red light flashing. I whispered in her ear “Let us get the security” she motions with her eyes and there standing behind the cameraman another man who was a security at the Court House. There were two security guards that accompanied the camera guy. A second cameraman from another Television station pushes his way in. A third one was also trying to come in to scoop the other two stations in the woman’s bathroom. Did they expect an orgy? Were they filming for a porn show? Laugher is the best medicine.
My friend give them “THE LOOK” as she screams as loud as she could saying I will give you a show I will show you the MOON. She calmly turns her back getting ready to pull down her pants. At that moment two other women were coming in the bathroom, they were French speaking and asked the camera men why they were there. The perverts left. My friend and I exchanged knowing glances, and started laughing. We never talked about the incident after. A few years ago I did write some poems in my book “Little White Lies” as a catharsis. Many Canadian women told me I was exaggerating. I am not exaggerating or inventing this story, I am only sharing it. It is in a way done to back up those who went through Residential Schools, who were abused, physically, psychologically and sexually.
I am writing this article to shed light on a problem we do not talk about in polite Canadian society. First Nation women are being abused by men in authority and most Canadian women who are feminist will not speak of the abuse done by Canadian men in authority. In 1990, I went to ask help from feminists because radio personalities were verbally abusing Mohawk women on air. I visited many groups alone and at times with Mohawk women, the response was always the same, silence. Feminist were telling me they are Warriors they are dangerous they hate us because we are White, they want to kill us.
I am White, I have a French name and made many friends who are from various First Nation communities. Because, I did not have an agenda and let the facts tell their story. I told the truth. I did not exaggerate, demonize, criminalize or start with the false hypothesis or premise that First Nation women are dumb, unable to care for themselves and are sex objects. I wanted to know the women as individuals and part of a community.
Canadian women need to show empathy for the women. Empathy will lead to complicity among women and we will be able to make lasting and much needed changes. Let us look at systemic racism. Look at how men treat us as women and then treat the “other women” be it First Nation, African descent women or Asian women. Let us take a look at the Indian Act and understand how free women, who played an important role in their society were deemed immature. Truth and reconciliation start with us Canadians women and men. We must demand that our governments make changes to the law and to the attitude and mentality of Canadians. First Nation people can govern themselves with honor and dignity. They are mature. Let us stop imposing our laws on them, let them chose the way they want to govern themselves.
As a child I was told that the police, was my friend, that day I learned that it was not so for everyone. Security guards, cameramen and reporters played the intimidation game. The tragic lesson I learned on that day was that First Nation women are not respected and are looked down upon. To claim to be civilized does not mean you are civil. These men may think they are heroes as they intimidate a woman. They are a cowards and bullies. What was done was violence against women. We can talk about the other, how native men abuse women let us talk about how some (not all) Canadian men abuse First Nation women. The civilized ones can be uncivilized brutes.