Indigenous women are more likely to face violence if they were a foster child: report

Frontline workers are calling for more support for Indigenous families after an analysis by Statistics Canada found First Nations, Inuit and Métis women are more likely to face physical or sexual assault in their lifetime if they were children in government care was.

The report, recently published in Juristat, says 63 percent of Indigenous women have experienced violence and nearly half – 46 percent – have experienced sexual assault.

The analysis found that 81 percent of Indigenous women who were in the child welfare system had been physically or sexually assaulted 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 families of missing women for nearly two decades.

Okemaysim-Sicotte has spoken to many women about how violence permeated their lives as foster children.

“Their experiences of trauma and violence began at a young age when they were taken from their families and then placed in abusive foster homes,” she said.

The analysis states that violence overall is associated with historical and ongoing trauma from “colonization and related policies aimed at wiping out 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. (CBC)

Certain characteristics of a person’s life increased the likelihood of experiencing violence, particularly being placed in care as a child.

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

Indigenous children overrepresented in care

Across Canada, 52.2 percent of children in foster care are Indigenous, although they make up about 7.7 percent of the total child population.

Around 10,000 children are cared for in Manitoba alone. About 90 percent are indigenous. This province has been called ground zero in the crisis surrounding missing and murdered tribal women.

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

“The most violent act that can be done to a woman is to steal her child.”

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

The final report of the investigation made a connection between the national crisis and the child welfare system.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz is Chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle. It brings together indigenous women from diverse backgrounds who are developing a national plan in response to the inquiry.

“This publication underscores the urgent need for immediate action by all governments to end further violence against indigenous women, girls and [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, causing trauma and destabilization, leading to a higher likelihood of experiencing violence.

More changes needed: Advocate

In 2020, the homicide rate among 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 responsibility for their own children. Numerous First Nations and other Indigenous groups create frameworks for authority over children and family ministries. A handful are already in charge.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz is Chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle. She says there is evidence that many tribal 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 such as well-being, healing and supporting families to reestablish connections, culture and language, rather than interventions in children,” she said.

Statistics Canada’s report found that other characteristics, including disability and housing insecurity, were also associated with higher odds of violence for Indigenous women.

In addition, Indigenous women were more than twice as likely to say they had little or no trust in the police compared to non-Indigenous women.

Okemaysim-Sicotte said she was encouraged that changes were being made at all levels to make women safer.

But, she said, more has to happen.

“The tragedy is still happening daily.”

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