Case Study

Indigenous Femicide and the Killing State

Case study

This case study documents the spaces and contexts in which Indigenous women die outside the formal custody of the state: on the streets; on the open road; in their own homes or at the edges of communities. In these spaces, although outside of its carceral confines, the violence of the settler state is enacted through diverse practices that render Indigenous women’s lives unsafe and produce their deaths.

We use the term femicide to underline that the incidence of Indigenous women’s deaths in these disparate places is not accidental or random, but a systematic outcome of the logic of settler colonialism.

 

 

Please Read

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this case study may contain images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that this study contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.

At the same time, each screen of these case studies testifies to target communities' strength and courage, as they respond to repeated deaths in custody through myriad creative forms, through lines of solidarity and through an unwavering call for justice.

‘The killing of Aboriginal women has a long history, a long-revered history, where the colonial perpetrators of this violence are revered in their actions.’

Bronwyn Carlson, Professor of Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University


‘Black women know the Australian state was built on such violence and that the instruments of law, the police and courts, can never really be trusted to protect black women’s bodies. We know that the Australian legal system’s tolerance of sexual violence towards Indigenous women is deeply seated in Australian history.’

Hannah McGlade, Noongar human rights and legal researcher


‘States do not always have to kill; its citizens can do that for it.’

Audra Simpson, Mohawk scholar


‘Colonization is violence.  Colonization has had an impact on both Indigenous women and men’s roles in all relationships but Indigenous women have taken the brunt of the impacts of colonization.  Direct attacks against Indigenous women are attempts to erase them from existence so that there will be no future generations. These are attacks against the future of our Indigenous nations.  Indigenous women are now dealing with the high statistics of violence against them and the highest numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, not only in Canada but also globally.’

Beverley Jacobs, Kanienkehake Nation, Bear Clan of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy from the Six Nations Grand River Territory


‘The links that bind us are sometimes fraught with violence, death and unimaginable trauma. But these links can also serve to make us stronger. As a global community of Indigenous women, we stand defiant, we stand strong and we stand for love.’

Tess Allas, Independent Researcher and Curator

Indigenous Femicide, Genocide, Sovereignty and Resistance

The silhouette of an Indigenous woman dancing while wearing traditional dress is in the foreground. Pictured on the screen behind her are three Indigenous women standing and looking at the viewer. They are all wearing red dresses.

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Screenshot from ‘Performance for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’. In October 2016, Canada’s unions staged a unique and powerful performance with music by A Tribe Called Red, video, holograms and dance to honour Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Indigenous women in Australia, Canada and the US have been targets of lethal violence since colonisation. Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls points out that:

Targeting  victims in a gender-oriented manner destroys the very foundations of the group as a social unit and leaves long-lasting scars within a group’s social fabric … Genocide is a root cause of the violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and girls, not only because of the genocidal acts that were and still are perpetrated against them, but also because of all the societal vulnerabilities it fosters, which leads to deaths and disappearances and which permeates all aspects of Canadian society today.

At the same time, Indigenous women have struggled on the frontlines of resistance movements for their sovereign rights to land, for their right to raise their children in culture on country, for an end to deaths in custody and for communities to live free from state-sanctioned violence.


‘Indigenous women warriors are the heart of the resistance in many ways but always within the context of their families, communities and Nations working alongside Indigenous men, elders, traditional and political leaders and our ancestors who walk beside us…The fact that we have survived Canada’s lethal policies which targeted our grandmothers, mothers, aunties, sisters and children is a symbol of our strength, resilience and refusal to give up our lands, cultures or identities.’ 

Pam Palmater, Mi’kmaw activist and lawyer


‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women possess a strength and resilience which most people cannot even begin to comprehend. We are the backbone of our communities. We are the life-givers, the nurturers and the carers. We are equally leaders, elders, role models and activists. We advocate fiercely for our own and work tirelessly every day for change. We are survivors, and we are fighters. We are the roots of the oldest known continuing culture on Earth. We have overcome the odds just by being here, living, breathing and fighting, every day.’

Jackie Huggins, Bidjara and Birri-Gubba Juru, Co-Chair, Reconciliation Australia

Continuities of Resistance: Indigenous Women on the Frontlines

We begin this case study on Indigenous femicide with an acknowledgement of the resistance of Indigenous women, Two Spirit and non-binary people. From the first frontier wars to the present, those most strongly resisting violence against Indigenous women have been Indigenous women.

We invite viewers to send us images and names of other Indigenous women to add to this gallery of Australian Indigenous women’s resistance.

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‘First Contact’, name withheld, reproduced with permission from the artist.

The Logic of Settler Colonialism and the Crime of Indigenous Femicide

A woman lays face down, sprawled across the centre of a road. Her stockings are torn and her shoes are falling off. A broken street sign lays on the road beside her indicating Brisbane is 300km away. There is no one else in sight.

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Tracey Moffat, Something More # 9, 1989. Series of 9 images. Cibachrome. 98 x 127 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. In Tracey Moffatt’s 1989 series Something More, a young woman’s yearning to escape her rural surroundings ends in the image of a brutal death, a body sprawled on an open road three hundred miles from the city of Brisbane.  The image all too graphically invokes the deaths of Indigenous women on country roads and highways in the years before and since.

The introduction to the special issue,  Native Women and Violence, points out that violence against Indigenous women is ‘inextricably linked to the state’ (Andrea Smith and Luana Ross, 2004,  1). Violence against Indigenous women’s bodies is integral to the project of settler colonialism; this structural violence, indeed, is what secures the continuing operations of the settler state, whether perpetrated inside or outside the formal custody of its institutions.

Commenting on the thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls [MMIWG] in Canada, Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson notes that their deaths and disappearances may be understood as ‘part of a vaporous crime spree that belongs to not one serial murder, but an entire citizenship’ (2016, 8). Understood as a form of serial killing, Indigenous women’s deaths in disparate places, on the fringes of towns or on lonely roads,  are not accidental or random tragedies, but a systematic outcome of the logic of settler colonialism. These are deaths that implicate a state’s entire non-Indigenous citizenry in the crime of Indigenous femicide. The state’s non-Indigenous citizenry is implicated because the crime of Indigenous femicide is enabled by the everyday operations of settler law, culture and its embodied economies of commodified exchange and disposability. The settler prerogative to use, abuse and kill Indigenous women is embedded in the colonial state’s gendered and racialised relations and structures of power. Indigenous femicide constitutes an identifiable and criminal dimension of the settler state’s genocidal logic of elimination.

Indigenous femicide, as we term the gendered violence that targets Indigenous women, girls and transpeople, is part of the extended, composite formation of genocidal violence directed at Indigenous people in settler states such as Canada, the U.S and Australia:

Colonial genocide is … a slow-moving process. Unlike the traditional paradigms of genocide, such as the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and the Rwandan Genocide … colonial destruction of Indigenous peoples has taken place insidiously and over centuries. The intent to destroy Indigenous peoples in Canada was implemented gradually and intermittently, using varied tactics against distinct Indigenous communities. These acts and omissions affected their rights to life and security, but also numerous economic, cultural and social rights. In addition to the lethal conduct, the non-lethal tactics used were no less destructive and fall within the scope of the crime of genocide. These policies fluctuated in time and space, and in different incarnations, are still ongoing. Without a clear start or end date to encompass these genocidal policies, colonial genocide does not conform with popular notions of genocide as a determinate, quantifiable event.

A Legal Analysis of Genocide, Supplementary Report to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

 

Reframing the Archive
The image is a portrait of one of the artists, Nicole Monks who wears a skin/fur coat and holds in one hand two clapping sticks. She stares into the camera with eyes wide and mouth open as if she is screaming. The photo is in a gold frame with a plaque at the bottom which reads 'Yamatji - since the beginning of time'.

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Reframed, 2018. Epson ultra chrome pigment on Ilford Gallerie Gloss. Brass plaques: WIRADJURI – since the beginning of time & YAMATJI – since the beginning of time, 120 x 90 x 5cm, edition of 3 + 2AP. Artists: Amala Groom & Nicole Monks. Image courtesy of the artists


‘Aboriginal women have been depicted in the media in this country for generations as loose women, existing only for the pleasure of men. We became currency in the colonial project. But our women were also warriors, who fought in the frontier wars. We still lead marches and protests, but at a great cost…our preoccupation with women’s rights is not to bust any glass ceilings – we’re trying to get off dirt floors and concrete prison cells.’

Paola Balla, Wemba Wemba and Gunditjmara artist, curator and researcher


The stories of Indigenous femicide constitute a hidden archive of the settler state that Indigenous artists are now reframing in multiple ways to make visible complex histories of violence and resistance. Statistics and court documents tell a small part of the story, but the core documents of this fragmented and scattered archive are the written and visual traces that supplement the testimonies of the women themselves. These images, as we discuss, are unavoidably volatile, polysemic and capable of multiple, and at times contradictory, readings.  They are important instances of Indigenous artists’ own complex responses to the representational violence of colonialism.

Throughout this case study we draw on Indigenous artists’ visual re-inscriptions, retellings and reversals of colonial violence as a complex archive of the killing of Indigenous women in a national ‘crime spree’ that is ‘vaporous’, in Audra Simpson’s words, in the sense of being both all-pervasive and untraceable.

Uncovering Violence

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Julie Gough, HUNTING GROUND (Pastoral) Van Diemen’s Land, 2016-17 (“Risdon” video still) HDMI  video projection, colour, silent, 12:26 min, 3:4 ratio edited by Angus Ashton. Viewable on Youtube. Also see essay ‘Julie Gough’s Forensic Archaeology of National Forgetting‘ by Joseph Pugliese.  

Julie Gough’s Hunting Ground (Pastoral) 2017 draws upon a series of colonial images representing pastoral visions of the colony. In the course of her video artwork, Gough deploys time-lapse photography to unsettle and reframe the pastoral vision of the settler landscape. Each colonial image used by Gough represents the site of a colonial massacre. The colonial image, in the course of the video, becomes scarred by the targeted victims of a settler massacre: ‘Blacks, woman, four men, a child.’ In the course of Gough’s video, each colonial image becomes completely buried under a thick layer of soil. Gough has sourced the soil that covers each image from actual settler massacre sites of Aboriginal Tasmanians.

In documenting the cumulative extension of soil across the surface of a series of colonial images to the point of complete effacement, Gough brings into focus the literal process of the historical decomposition of a massacre site and its consequent burial and excision from the annals of settler history.  Across the surface of a site of atrocity, the amnesic soil of national forgetting continues to accumulate (Pugliese 2017). Its accretive layers occlude the hundreds of massacre sites that scar the Australian landscape, even as they serve to supply the very foundation of the settler nation and all of its prestigious civil institutions – of law, government, church and culture.

The aesthetic techniques deployed in Gough’s work powerfully resonate with those used in many of the other Indigenous artworks that inscribe this case study. They include aesthetic techniques of reframing stock colonial images and genres in order expose their historical lies and effacements; tactics of uncovering buried acts of settler violence, thereby exposing atrocities not told in settler histories of the nation; and techniques of bringing into focus the traces of Indigenous culture and history that have resisted settler acts of obliteration and that continue to attest to Indigenous survivance.

Visual Traces

A woman stands beside a river of blood. Peoples bodies float in the river which has guns scattered around it. The river and bush has become a massacre site.

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Laurel Nannup, Quirriup 2016 (second state), Woodcut print on rag paper, 120 x 100 cm. Photo: Simon Hewson, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Campbelltown Arts Centre. 

Contemporary representations connect to far older stories of violence. In Dale Harding’s Black Days in the Dawson River Country (2016) three unworn dresses mark the 1857 killing of an Aboriginal woman by a settler who used the pretext that she had worn a dress from his mother’s wardrobe to justify his act of murder.

In Laurel Nannup’s Quirriup (2016)the figure of a lone woman ‘standing in front of her mia-mia next to a river of blood and a sea of floating bodies’ commemorates the Pinjarra massacre of 1834. In colonial contexts, the dumping of Indigenous bodies in rivers has been used as one way of destroying the evidence of settler crimes. The Pinjarra massacre resonates historically with the 1816 Appin Massacre (NSW), in which Indigenous women, men and children were killed by armed settler forces who drove them over a gorge and into the Cataract River. Working under Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s proclamation to ‘rid the land of troublesome blacks,’  the Appin Massacre is the first known Australian instance of the destruction of massacre evidence through the dumping of Indigenous bodies in rivers. Tess Allas and David Garneau’s landmark exhibition, With Secrecy and Despatch, brought together Indigenous artworks that ‘dealt directly with the massacre or that drew on the brutalities’ that transpired across both the Australian and Canadian settler-colonial states.

Another instance of making visible the colonial killings of the present is the 2018 installation Sorry for your Loss,  ‘made up of communal artwork and visual and audio performances set within a cell block’ to tell ‘the true story of the lives of the women who have died while in custody’. In their accompanying  essay  Chris Cunneen and Amanda Porter discuss the gaps and errors in official analyses of Indigenous women and girls who die both in and out of official state custody.

Put in harm’s way: the ‘vaporous crime spree’ of rape and death

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‘Black days in the Dawson River Country – Remembrance gowns’, installation, textiles assemblages textile accessories neckpieces necklaces, textile, lace, wood, native flowers, 54.0 h x 500.0 w x 300.0 d cm, 2016. Purchased by the National Gallery of Australia in 2017 in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum. Artist: Dale Harding. Photo: Dr Ryan Presley.


‘Discrimination takes the form both of overt cultural prejudice and of implicit or systemic biases in the policies and actions of government officials and agencies, or of society as a whole. This discrimination has played out in policies and practices that have helped put Indigenous women in harm’s way.

The 2004 report Stolen Sisters, compiled by the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Amnesty International, was one of the first to highlight national and international understandings of how the state ‘helps put Indigenous women in harm’s way’ through its historical and current policies and practices.

As highlighted in subsequent investigations  such as ‘Why are Indigenous women missing in Canada?’ and ‘Vanished’, across Australia, as in Canada and the US, violence is a large and lethal part of life for many Aboriginal women.

Indigenous women account for 16 per cent of female homicides in both Canada and Australia. The group Destroy the Joint, which was established in 2012, has attempted to document femicide in Australia through their ‘Counting Dead Women’ initiative. Following on from this, Celeste Liddle, an Arrernte community organiser and writer, attempted to identify what percentage of these women were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. The RED HEART campaign also maps Australian femicide and child death.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP), during 2012-14, two in five Indigenous homicide victims were killed by a current or previous partner, compared with one in five non-Indigenous homicide victims (AIHW). 

Over three-quarters of all female Indigenous victims compared with almost two-thirds of all female non-Indigenous victims were victims of domestic or family homicides. Data from the NHMP 1989–90 to 2011–12, also suggested that Indigenous women were less likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Indigenous women. Homicides involving Indigenous people also occurred less frequently in a home setting (41%) than non-Indigenous people (51%) (Cussen & Bryant 2015).

Disproportionately targeted: Australia

Excerpt from the poem 'Double Threat' by Melanie Mununggurr-Williams, it reads 'I'm born with a target on my back / It's a target of default / simply because I'm born Black...'. Behind the text are two red target symbols.

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Melanie Mununggurr-Williams – Australian Poetry Slam Champion, ‘Double Threat‘, 2018. Video: Australian Poetry Slam.

  • Research into the mortality of mothers between 1983 and 2010 by the Centre for Research Excellence in Aboriginal Health and Well-being found that Aboriginal mothers were about 17.5 times more likely to die from homicide than non-Aboriginal mothers. The study also found that Aboriginal women ‘had higher rates of death due to external causes and higher rates in the sub-categories of accident, suicide and homicide than other women’ (2016, 461). The exceptional mortality rates of mothers in turn carries a range of grave implications for Aboriginal children’s health and wellbeing.
  • Based on Australia’s 2014-15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey [NATSISS], 63% of Indigenous women who had experienced physical violence reported that the perpetrator of the most recent incident was a family member, including a current or former partner. During the same period, Indigenous women were 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence than non-Indigenous women. In citing these statistics, we also strongly emphasise that the perpetrators of family violence were not necessarily Indigenous men, as is sometimes erroneously assumed.
  • According to the 2016 the Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] recorded data on victims of crime, Indigenous people in Australia were up to 3.4 times as likely to be the victims of sexual assault than non-Indigenous Australians across the  jurisdictions of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory (AIHW, 2018).

‘I don’t know any woman in my community who has not been raped’: Sexual violence in Native America

In her book The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America, Sarah Deer writes that she heard this statement more than once in her work in Native communities.


‘I call it hunting – non-natives come here hunting. They know they can come onto our lands and rape us with impunity because they know that we can’t touch them.’ 

Lisa Brunner, advocate


Charon Asetoyer (Comanche) and other women from Canadian reservations  explained the severity of rape this way: Native women ‘talk to their daughters about what to do when they are sexually assaulted, not if they are sexually assaulted, but when.’ (Deer, 2015)

Indigenous women face the highest rates of violence per capita out of any other group. In the U.S, while the majority of sexual assaults against white and African American women were intraracial, ‘rape and sexual assault victimisations’ of Indigenous American and Alaskan women were more likely to be interracial, with a significant proportion of them being white male perpetrators. (Bachman et al, 2008)

  • In national averages, Indigenous women are twice as likely to be stalked than non-Indigenous women in the US.
  • Six in ten Indigenous women will be physically assaulted (Whitebear).
  • A 2007 report by Amnesty International ‘Maze of Injustice‘ cites data gathered by the US Department of Justice suggesting that Native American and Alaskan Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than non-Indigenous women in the U.S.
  • Based on data from a 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 27.5% of American Indian and Alaska Native women had been raped in their lifetime while 55.0% experienced sexual violence other than rape in the course of their lifetimes.

Canada: ‘Walking with targets on our backs’

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Trailer for ‘Will I See?’ graphic novel, 2017. Song ‘Nobody Knows’ by Iskwe and artwork by GMB Chomichuk.  


‘Being an Indigenous woman in Canada is to feel hunted.’

Terese Marie Mailhot, Seabird Island Band



‘I’ve been in survival mode since I was a little girl, watching my back, watching goings on. Because I’ve seen my aunties, my cousins, my female cousins brutalized by police. And, growing up as a First Nation woman in this city, in this province, in this country – we’re walking with targets on our backs.’

Kohkom, quoted in Final Report of the Inquiry into MMIWG (2019, 56)


In Canada, Aboriginal women are four times more likely to be murdered than any other group of Canadian women. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) released a report in May 2014 which stated that between 1980 to 2012 close to 1,200 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or have been murdered. In this report 60% of recorded murders of Aboriginal women were committed by family members and 40% murdered by strangers or ‘casual acquaintances’. Aboriginal women are almost three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Aboriginal women are.

The Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability was started in 2017 and has since attempted to monitor and map femicide cases.

 

Targeting Indigenous LGBTIQ2S people

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MMIWG symbols leading the Blak contingent at Mardi Gras, 2020. Photo: Charandev Singh.

With colonisation came also the enforcement of the eurocentric gender binary on Indigenous people. In ‘An Introduction to the Health of Two-Spirit People: Historical, contemporary and emergent Issues’, Kwakwaka’wakw scholar Sarah Hunt outlines the effects of colonisation on Two-Spirit people. Today, transgender and Two Spirit people continue to be erased in conversations and data collection around those who are missing or murdered despite the fact that extreme violence persists against their communities in both Canada and the US.

Indigenous trans youth are also particularly vulnerable to homelessness, with one-third of trans youth reporting rejection from shelters as a result of policies that police gender presentation. This increases vulnerability to exploitation and violence.

As the Anishinaabe and Métis poet Gwen Benaway puts it, Indigenous transgender women and Two-Spirit people are caught in ‘lethal crossfire of racism, colonization, transphobia and misogyny’.

 

At a ‘Lethal Crossfire’

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MMIWG symbols leading the Blak contingent at Mardi Gras, 2020. Photo: Charandev Singh.

  • Kellie Little, a member of Nuchatlaht First Nation, was 28 years old when she disappeared from Vancouver in 1997.
  • In 2004, Divas Boulanger, a transgender woman from Berens River was found dead near a rest stop in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. It took 11 years for the man responsible for her violent death to be convicted and sentenced for second degree murder.
  • In 2009, Veronnica Baxter, a transgender Aboriginal woman, was found dead in her prison cell under suspicious circumstances at Silverwater prison, NSW. Despite identifying as a woman, she was placed in a men’s jail and denied access to her prescribed hormone medication. The late Uncle Ray Jackson, President of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, campaigned up until his death to get justice for Veronnica Baxter’s family.
  • In 2014, Colten Pratt, a Two-Spirited 26 year old, from Long Plain First Nation went missing in Winnipeg.
  • In 2017, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, a 28 year old Two-Spirit, transgender woman of the Oglala Lakota tribe was stabbed to death in her apartment in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
  • In the same year Alloura Wells went missing. Her body was later found in a ravine in Toronto.

Indigenous Girls: lethal delays

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NAIDOC rally, Narrm (Melbourne), Kulin Nations, 2016. Photo: Charandev Singh.

Crimes against children and cases of their disappearance should be treated with the utmost urgency by law enforcement agencies. In the case of Indigenous girls in Canada, the US and Australia, however, the experiences of families are often characterised by lethal indifference, disbelief on the part of authorities and delays in issuing alerts and conducting missing persons investigations. It is clear that the safety and protections afforded to Indigenous girls are not equal to those given to other children.

CBC’s database of missing and murdered Indigenous girls in Canada names almost 50 girls. Leah Anderson a 15 year old Cree girl is one of them. She left home to go ice skating one night with friends, but did not make it back by her curfew. Her body was discovered two days later. Six years on, her family are still searching for answers.

In the US, in May 2016 Ashlynne Mike, an 11 year old Navajo girl, was abducted while walking home from school with her younger brother, in Shiprock, New Mexico. Her brother managed to escape and was picked up and brought home. Ashlynne’s family immediately attempted to contact law enforcement agencies, urging them to issue an amber alert. The following day her body was discovered, with indications of her having been subject to rape before her brutal murder. Although her killer was apprehended soon after, if the Amber Alert had been issued sooner, could Ashlynne have been found, and saved? In the case of Monica Still Smoking, who was 8 years old when she disappeared on the Blackfeet Reservation in 1979, despite her body being found within two weeks of her disappearance, over 30 years later her killer remains unknown.

 

 

 

Disappeared — No answers

Emerging from a crowd of people is a sign held on a stick. The sign reads 'Justice for Evelyn Greenup: taken at 4 years old. We need answers. Help us in our fight for justice'. There are two photos of a young child on the placard, along with flowers in the bottom left corner and a trail of pink butterflies that fly towards the top.

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2016. Photo: Rachel Evans.

Likewise there has been no justice or resolution to questions about the disappearances and suspected deaths of Indigenous girls in Australia, including Evelyn Greenup (4 years old) and Colleen Walker (16 years old) from Bowraville, an infamous case in which justice continues to evade families for the deaths of three children, including Clinton Speedy-Duroux. Despite repeated efforts by their families since 1990 the murders remain unresolved. Their ongoing struggle for justice over more than 25 years underscores how the lives of these Aboriginal children are considered disposable.

In 1990, Karen Williams (16 years old) disappeared from Coober Pedy. The last person to see her was Nikola Novakovich who had offered her a lift home from a disco at the local hotel. In 2016 he was acquitted of her murder. Her remains still have not been located and no one has been held accountable for her death. Karen’s father passed away without knowing what happened to his daughter and there are fears that other family members will suffer the same fate.

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Julie Gough, HUNTING GROUND (Pastoral) Van Diemen’s Land, 2016-17 (“Risdon” video still) HDMI  video projection, colour, silent, 12:26 min, 3:4 ratio edited by Angus Ashton. Viewable on Youtube. Also see essay ‘Julie Gough’s Forensic Archaeology of National Forgetting‘ by Joseph Pugliese.

The instrumentality of state institutions

An open account book sits on a timber desk. Scrawled across the right page is the message, 'I know what you did last century'. Behind it a number of objects are propped up against the wall. These include an 'Aboriginal art book' by Charles P. Mountford, an old, dirty bottle, timber letters that spell 'I O U', a landscape painting and a piece of timber cut into the shape of Australia.

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 I Know What You Did Last Century, 2010. Artist: Paola Balla. Image courtesy of the artist.

Discussing the annual memorial marches for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women organised by a community coalition in Canada, Allison Hargreaves describes the significance of their route, beginning on the steps of the courthouse and winding through the busiest downtown streets to the police headquarters. Like the content of the speeches, the route of the march was ‘an act of Indigenous-led public memorial’ that emphasised that ‘the justice system has not merely failed to protect the missing and murdered, but has been instrumental to this violence in the first place –displacing Indigenous women and children’ through policy and legislation expressly designed to this end. Hargreaves argues that the march did not seek protection for Indigenous peoples caught in these institutions, but rather insisted ‘on the need for a different political relationship between Indigenous people and the colonial nation-state’ (Hargreaves 2017, 8).

The first MMIW March was organised as early as 1992 in response to the murder of a woman on Powell Street in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside, Coast Salish Territories. This important scene of early activism helped to place the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls on the national political agenda.

Settler law as violence against Indigenous women

This illustration depicts and Indigenous woman defiantly resisting her colonisers. She stands strong, with an Aboriginal flag pin on her shirt and holds leaves in her right hand which is raised behind her head. The hands of a white man, which are tattooed with an adaptation of the Australian flag which features a swastika in place of the union jack, points a gun at her head. The tip of the gun drips liquid. Above the gun, the words 'Still Here. Still Blak. We Won't Kneel, We Won't Salute' are written.

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Still Here. Still Blak‘, digital illustration, 2018. “We won’t Kneel. We won’t Salute to whose who kill our youth, and the systems that let them.” Artist: Charlotte Allingham.

The gendered impacts of settler colonialism include the ‘dispersal’ and enforced removal or trafficking of people from country, the disruption of families and gender roles, the removal of children from families and the added vulnerability of women and girls to sexual violence from both within their communities and outside them.

From its inception the laws of the settler state position Indigenous women as different to both Indigenous men and non-Indigenous women. Carol Thomas, Aboriginal Women’s Policy Coordinator of the NSW Office of Aboriginal Affairs notes that ‘whilst all Aboriginal people experienced extremely high levels of physical and spiritual violence by the new non-Aboriginal population,  Aboriginal women also experienced high levels of sexual abuse by this new population’ (2017, 139-140).  Direct violence was accompanied by a legal violence that was directed towards women in specific ways: criminologists Eileen Baldry and Chris Cunneen note that in Australia while both Aboriginal men and women were ‘governed by various aspects of 19th century protection legislation … Aboriginal women were also subjected to colonial patriarchal control by being locked up in disproportionate numbers in women’s ‘factories’ and in mental asylums and punished further by having their children removed’ (2014).

Whitewashing the Gendered and Sexual Violence of Settler Law and Literature

Five people sit on a stage behind a table. Projected text behind them reads 'Panel 1: Responses to the Deathscapes Site: Safdar Ahmed, Bronwyn Carolson, Maria Giannacopoulos, Hannah McGlade. Moderator: Chris Cunneen'. To their right is a large framed photo of Uncle Ray Jackson, a bouquet of flowers and other memorabilia.

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Professor Bronwyn Carlson speaking at the Deathscapes Launch, Gadigal Country (Sydney), 2019. Video available on Youtube.

In this video, Professor Bronwyn Carlson, Head of the Department of Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University, talks about past and contemporary settler violence against Aboriginal women.

Discussing the case of an Aboriginal woman who died in custody after experiencing a history of domestic violence and criminalisation, Carlson describes how: ‘when the Aboriginal woman was brought before the judge, he said to her: “Your Aboriginality won’t be used as a defence in my court.”‘ She continues: ‘I’ve really never forgotten that because I thought: Wow, you’ve literally just wiped out this woman’s entire identity and history, which is linked to all of that violence. The fact that she was an Aboriginal woman was the reason for all of those things that had happened to her. Because if she’d been a non-Indigenous woman, she would have been able to seek help and attract help in a much different way.’

Carlson also underscores the white normalisation of settler violence against Indigenous women, reading from an excerpt by Xavier Herbert, considered ‘one of the elder statesmen of Australian literature’ and awarded the prestigious Miles Franklin prize. In the text that she quotes, Herbert matter-of-factly describes how the men of the pearling industry in Broome would abduct Aboriginal women, use them as divers, rape them and, when they became pregnant, throw their bodies overboard. Carlson concludes that: ‘The killing of Aboriginal women has a long history, a long-revered history where the colonial perpetrators of this violence are revered in their actions.’

‘Legally mandated to disappear’

Sitting within a black frame and background is a page of the Canadian Indian Act. Red beading overlays a section of the document on the left side. On this section, white beads replace the words below, rendering the Act null and void.

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‘Indian Act’, fabric, printed paper, beads, thread, tape and needle, 46 x 38.7 x 5.5cm, 2002. Artist: Nadia Myre.

Differential civic and legal status, such as under Canada’s Indian Act, marginalise Indigenous women and children, rendering them vulnerable to removal from  Country and subject to trafficking. In Australia, The Bringing Them Home Report tracks the differential impact of state and national native welfare legislation on children and girls. This included laws designated as ‘protection’ for Aboriginal girls and women, such as the WA Native Welfare Act of 1905. Laws which included or excluded certain groups ‘under the Act’ depending on parentage had the effect of dividing families, sometimes permanently and with tragic consequences.


‘The lives of all Indian women in Canada is an anomaly because since the 1870s they have been legally mandated to disappear, in various forms – either through the Indian Act’s previous instantiation of Victorian marriage rules whereby an Indian woman who married a non-Indian man lost her Indian status (her legal rights based identity) and as such her right to reside on her reserve. With this legal casting out was the casting out as well of the possibility of transmitting that status to her children, a loss as well of governmental power with Indigenous governance itself, the political form that her body and mind signified.’

Audra Simpson (2016, 4)


‘Colonial legal systems historically protected (and rewarded) the exploiters of Native women and girls and therefore encouraged the institutionalization of sexual subjugation of Native women and girls.’ 

Sarah Deer (2010, 628-9)


 

Settler Categorisations

Amala Groom stands in bushland surrounded by thin, tall trees. Her stance is strong and defiant. She holds a framed painting of Queen Elizabeth II in front of herself, obscuring her naked body with this symbol of the crown and colonial project.

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dhaagun ngiyanhigin.gu nganhundhi (The land owns me), 2018. Epson ultra chrome pigment on Canson Photographique 100% cotton rag, 114 x 169 x 5cm, Edition of 5 + 1AP. Artist: Amala Groom. Image courtesy of the artist.


‘Feminist scholars have argued that Native women’s bodies were to the settler eye, like land, and as such in the settler mind, the Native woman is rendered “unrapeable” (or, highly “rapeable”) because she was like land, matter to be extracted from, used, sullied, taken from, over and over again, something that is already violated and violatable in a great march to accumulate surplus, to so called “production”.’

Audra Simpson (2016, 6)


‘Ready access to black women was seen as one of the attractions of outback life and women were forcibly abducted in all parts of Australia. Stockmen regularly participated in ‘gin hunts’ and ‘gin sprees’, seeking Aboriginal women for sex. Even station owners were complicit in the (s)exploitation. White men were lured to employment in the rural areas by being offered the pick of the Aboriginal women on the station. Aboriginal women became viewed as a side benefit of working on remote cattle stations, with white men believing that they had unfettered licence to ‘shoot a nigger at sight or to ravish a gin.’

Larissa Behrendt (2000, 353)


 

‘Aboriginal women are still trapped by the[se] frontier constructs and assumptions of the availability of their sexuality.’

Larissa Behrendt (2000) 360


‘Because Aboriginal women’s bodies are [seen as] “less than”, we are much more “rapeable”, in the sense that our bodies mean less and our consent means less…Because we are dehumanised and we’re seen as less than, its easier to perpetrate violence against us.’

Tarneen Onus Williams (2018)

‘Throwaway sexuality’ and the rapeable subject

A vintage women's gown adorned with native Australian bird feathers is hung on a detached tree branch.

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Born Into Sovereignty, Live in Sovereignty, 2014. Artist: Paola Balla. Image courtesy of the artist.

The differential and sexualised categorizations of Aboriginal women from the outset are embodied most clearly in the typologies such as ‘the squaw’ or ‘the gin‘. These in turn render Indigenous women and girls more vulnerable to violence: positioned as commodities or objects of currency on the land, or else positioned as surrogates for the land; as sexually available (‘highly rapeable’) or able to be sexually violated with impunity (‘unrapeable’). As Indigenous women are criminalised, rendered deviant or less than human, violence perpetrated against them ceases to be visible as violence. Works such as Mer/Palm Island artist Boneta-Marie Mabo’s Black Velvet: Your Label respond to this history as they reclaim the present.

Eualeyai/Kamillaroi scholar Larissa Behrendt argues that the ‘throwaway sexuality’ or casual sexual availability of Indigenous women is taken for granted even by seemingly progressive authors such as Thomas Keneally in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. While consensual sexual relations between Indigenous women and colonisers did occur on the frontier, they did so ‘against a background of continual frontier and sexual violence’ (Behrendt 2000, 354-5).

Colonising bodies and land


‘The industrial system of resource extraction in Canada is predicated on systems of power and domination. This system is based on the raping and pillaging of Mother Earth as well as violence against women. The two are inextricably linked. With the expansion of extractive industries, not only do we see desecration of the land, we see an increase in violence against women. Rampant sexual violence against women and a variety of social ills result from the influx of transient workers in and around workers’ camps.’

Melina Laboucan-Massimo (Lubicon Cree), quoted in ‘Violence on the land, Violence on our bodies: Building an Indigenous response to environmental justice


Invasion and colonisation are inextricable from the disregard of consent for bodies or over land. Indigenous activists and communities draw attention to the intersections of environmental violence and gender-based violence. One of the most readily intelligible examples is the relation that links sites of extraction, the corresponding influx of a mostly male, white, workforce and the dispersal of local populations. This is often marked by an increase in rates of sexual violence, increases in crime and forms of addiction (alcohol, sugar, drugs) and the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women and children.

Ivan Sen’s films Mystery Road and Goldstone (discussed in the following sections of this case study), as well as popular films such as Wind River, explore the contemporary murder and disappearance of Indigenous women in the vicinity of mining camps or on reservations.

White male violence and MMIWG

An Aboriginal woman lays on the ground facing the camera with her body strewn across the floor. A blanket printed with the words 'Defiled' is draped over her waist, hips and legs. Two white settler men stand above her as if they have been caught while hunting their prey. One holds a rifle which is pointed down towards her and stares into the camera. The other appears preoccupied with something he's holding in his hand.

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‘Bearing Witness IV’, Bearing Witness, inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper, 150 x 100 cm, 2009. Artist: Fiona Foley. Image courtesy of the artist


‘Why are we so hesitant to name white male violence as a root cause, yet so comfortable naming all the “risk factors” associated with the lives of Indigenous girls who have died?’ 

Sarah Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw writer, educator and activist)


In Australia since invasion, heteropatriarchal violence against Indigenous bodies is inextricable from settler colonialism. Contemporary attitudes relating to entitlement and consent are shaped by the ways in which the bodies of Indigenous women and girls were regarded by the white colonisers.

In a 2018 report by Our Watch on understanding violence against Indigenous women and children, Antoinette Braybrook challenges the perception that the perpetrators of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are mostly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. This perception is compounded by media reports that rarely focus on non-Indigenous men as perpetrators (20). While family violence happens within Indigenous communities, evidence suggests that Indigenous women are targeted and hurt by men from many different cultures and backgrounds. This calls for a much broader response informed by a historical understanding of the roots of settler violence against Indigenous women and girls.

In Badtjala artist Fiona Foley’s work, ‘Bearing Witness IV’, an Aboriginal woman is sprawled on the ground, her lower body covered in a blanket labelled ‘defiled’. Two white men stand over her. One, holding a gun pointed toward her, stares defiantly at the viewer;  the other, carrying a riding crop and mobile phone, is seemingly unperturbed by the sight before him. The riding crop references the weapons of white male violence used to terrorise Aboriginal women. It also refers to the historical fact that, in settler contexts, the ‘men who associated with Aboriginal women were known as “gin jockeys“.’  The work bears witness to the forms of entitlement to which Aboriginal women’s bodies are subject under the colonial gaze. The woman and the armed man face the viewer, forcing viewers to examine our own complicity in the violent gendered and raced power dynamics being played out.

‘Police kill Native women at higher rates than other groups of women. Cops are part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution to MMIW, they are perpetrators in our communities that must be banished. And we must stand with our relatives murdered by police, such [as] Sarah Lee Circle Bear and Loreal Tsingine.’

The Red Nation, Statement on May 5 #MMIW Remembrance Day

Over-policed and Under-protected

Indigenous women are targeted and criminalised from birth. In many cases, women who should have been afforded protection by authorities have instead been treated with extreme violence by them.

Some studies suggest that almost 90% of Aboriginal women in prison experienced forms of sexual abuse by  non-Indigenous and Indigenous men as children, adolescents and as adults. A large percentage of Aboriginal women are in jail for having killed someone who has been violent to them (Atkinson, 2001).

In Australia, the targeting of Indigenous women is evident through the death in custody of Ms Dhu, a Yamatji-Nanda/Banjima woman who suffered domestic violence and should have been offered protection, not incarcerated. Ms Maher, a Wiradjuri woman, whose inquest findings were handed down in July 2019 and Aunty Tanya Day, a Yorta Yorta grandmother, were arrested for public drunkenness and died in custody soon after. Aunty Tanya Day’s inquest was the first to consider the role of systemic racism. As Alison Whittaker writes, ‘Systemic racism offers us some answers — not only on how Day died in a prison system, but also on how that prison system comes to be and behave in a way that targets Indigenous women like her.’

In the Northern Territory, Ms Lakuwanga was supposed to be taken into ‘protective custody’ after friends phoned police to report a domestic violence incident. After attending the house and speaking to no one other than the perpetrator, police instead decided to leave her in the care of her violent and intoxicated partner. Less than half an hour after they left, other officers attended and found her unconscious, lying naked on the floor. She died due to a ruptured spleen caused by violence.

In a horrific case in Broome, Western Australia, Tamica Mullaley was driven to hospital in handcuffs after being punched repeatedly, stripped naked and left by the side of the road by her then-de facto partner, Mervyn Bell. Later that same night, while Tamica Mullaley was in hospital, Bell abducted her 10-month-old son Charlie, and raped and murdered him in the course of the next thirteen hours. Police failed to protect Charlie, though Tamica’s father repeatedly told them that Bell had taken the baby. Police were more interested in attempting to charge Tamica and her father for obstructing them than with protecting baby Charlie.

In Canada, similar failures to protect occurred in the cases of Debra Chrisjohn of the Oneida Nation, Josephine Pelletier a Cree and Saulteaux woman who was shot dead by police and Mi’kmaq woman, Victoria Paul, as well as in the case of 16-year-old Tina Fontaine (discussed in detail later).  In the US, the death in custody of Sarah Lee Circle Bear underscores the  lethal denial of care to Indigenous women. It appears that resources are always available to incarcerate Indigenous women and girls; however, when they go missing, face threats of violence or experience medical emergencies, the resources disappear.

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Justice for Kumanjayi Walker, Narrm, Kulin Nations (Melbourne), 2019. Photo: Charandev Singh.

 Girls and Children: Stages of Institutional Violence

‘Child welfare is a pipeline to prison for Indigenous peoples generally, but for Indigenous women and girls specifically, child welfare is also a pipeline to child exploitation, sex trafficking and murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls…It makes no sense for federal or provincial governments to apologize for past policies and practices if they continue today at even higher rates.’

Pam Palmater, Mi’kmaw activist and lawyer

Displacing Children

In this photo, a young mother sits on a bench placed in a vast regional landscape. In front of her a hopscotch has been drawn onto the ground surface. Children's toys are scattered around it. She is alone, without her child.

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‘Mother (hopscotch)’, Mother series, inkjet print on paper, 80×120cm, 2016. Photo: Michael Cook. Image courtesy of the artist

The sexual degradation of Indigenous women’s bodies played a key role in the  the dispersal of Indigenous people from their lands, the break-up of communities, the trafficking of women and children and institutionalised child removal policies. Children fathered by white men were targeted for assimilation into the white population through policies of cultural genocide, such as the residential school system in Canada and the missions for the stolen generations in Australia.


‘The removal of Indigenous children in the early part of the 20th century relied on views that Indigenous parenting was negligent and, in particular, that Indigenous female sexuality was a threat that needed to be controlled by targeting pubescent girls’

Baldry and Cunneen (2014, 285)


In Australia, forced child removals continue to increase exponentially today. Despite the placement principle that requires Indigenous children to be first placed with family, as a second option with an Aboriginal community member, as a third option with another Aboriginal person, and, as a final option only with a non-Aboriginal person, increasingly children are being placed in culturally inappropriate placements in the first instance.

Ongoing theft of children by the colonial state

Vanessa Turnbull Roberts is pictured, looking at the camera with strength and determination in her eyes. A quote from her is written to the right "Sorry means you don't do it again. That same year that Kevin Rudd said sorry was the same year I was removed, and 10,000 other children were removed as well..." - Vanessa Turnbull Roberts.

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‘Vanessa Turnbull Roberts speaks to Marlee Silva on Mamamia’s Tiddas 4 Tiddas podcast, the Bundjalung woman, law student and activist says she is part of the ongoing Stolen Generation, which continues to affect Indigenous people.


‘Child removal is no less distressing today than it was in the past. Two years ago, here in Western Australia, I witnessed inadvertently the immediate aftermath of Aboriginal child removal and the pain of a young child in great distress. No Aboriginal people were even present to comfort him as he tried to make his way free and back to his family. It was cruel and unfathomable that our children could still be treated in this way.’ 

Hannah McGlade, Noongar researcher, on child removal in 2017


In Australia the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in parliament on 26 May 1997. More than two decades on, the rates of forced removal of Indigenous children are higher than ever before.

The documentary After the Apology highlights how, even following the (belated) formal apology by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the ongoing genocidal practices of the state impact on families and communities,  leading to contemporary generations of stolen children. Considerable resistance, however, has also emerged through the establishment of Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR) networks nationwide and the Family Matters Campaign who support women in advocating for the right to bring their children home.

Despite strong efforts by communities to keep kids on country and with their families, attacks on their rights continue. Despite continuing opposition from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peak agencies and communities, in New South Wales (NSW) in 2018 laws were passed that will allow children from the state’s foster care system to be adopted without parental consent.

Young people involved in the child protection system are over-represented in the youth justice system, such that the Australian Law Reform in 2019 called for a national inquiry into this issue. In Western Australia, we see a literal playing out of the child welfare to prison pipeline: two children removed by the state were  warehoused at Banksia Hill Youth Prison because there ‘are no vacancies at any residential or community care homes in WA’.

This graphic shows a black doll silhouette at the centre on top of a white handprint which is featured on a red stop sign.

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‘Stop’ logo. Artist: Blak Douglas. ‘I am using my art to tell this story. The fractured bands around each black doll in my paintings symbolises the danger of removing a child from family. The damage is irreversible, not only to that child, but to the generations to come, who don’t know who they are or where they belong,’ 2014.

From Foster Care to Missing and Murdered

An image featuring text which reads "this pipeline is one that gets far less media attention and far less attention from government officials and that pipeline is the pipeline from foster care to murdered, missing, exploited, trafficked and imprisoned Indigenous women and girls" - Pam Palmater, 'Foster care is a pipeline to murdered and missing Indigenous girls'

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In 2008 then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also made an apology for the Indian Residential Schools system. As in Australia, however, the intergenerational cycle of forced child removal continues at increased rates, as does the sexual exploitation of young people in the foster care system.

From residential schools to foster care, some Indigenous mothers still live with the fear that their children will be ripped away from them at birth. In 2016, First Nations, Metis and Inuit youth made up about half of foster children under 14 in Canada, despite representing just seven per cent of that age group. Indigenous girls in the B.C. child welfare system are four times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than non-Indigenous girls. Like in Australia, some communities are pooling resources together to resist forced child removals.

Deaths of Indigenous girls in ‘care’

A group of staunch Aboriginal women carry a banner with the words 'Don't be sorry do sorry' printed across an Aboriginal flag. Two of the women have their fists raised in the air. They are marching in a protest and other people can be seen walking with them.

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GMAR rally – #Apology10, Gadigal Country (Sydney), 2018. Photo: Charandev Singh.

Girls have died in shocking circumstances while under the care of child protective services in Australia and Canada.

  • Madeline Downman (17 years old) was found hanging in a residential facility operated by the Department of Children and Families in the Northern Territory. In the four years prior to her death, she repeatedly asked to leave state care and return home. The circumstances surrounding her death illustrate the intersecting traumas of the youth justice and child protection systems.
  •  Savannah Hall (3 years old) died two years after entering the care of a foster family. A coroner ruled that the cause of her death was ‘undetermined’. Prior to her death her biological mother, who had herself been in foster care as a child, repeatedly raised concerns about the cruel treatment her daughter was experiencing in foster care.

There are also instances of Indigenous girls dying in circumstances where child protective services placed them in the care of family members who were not equipped to provide them with adequate care; despite warning signs, protective services then failed to intervene. An 8 year old girl died from dehydration in the West Australian desert in 2012 in these circumstances, as did Deborah Melville, a 12 year old, who died in Darwin in harrowing conditions of neglect in 2007.

 

‘Those who take us away’


‘An Aboriginal woman stated that while she was in police custody in Townsville police officers alternated between saying ‘should we rape her’ and ‘should we hang her.’

Behrendt (2000, 64)


‘In terms of my faith in the court system, I believe that the police and the judicial system is designed to protect the perpetrators and get them the easiest sentence. There’s no support, there’s no validation, they sure as hell don’t believe Aboriginal women.’

Quoted in ‘Systemic responses continue to fail and traumatise Aboriginal Women who survive violence’


A police wagon slowly came around the corner and one of the girls suddenly ran onto the road and began hurling abuse at its lone male occupant. As the wagon slowed, I saw the policeman smirk at her, then raise his eyes and catch sight of me standing with her group of friends. He drove off.

‘He been rape me,’ she said angrily, by way of explanation for her actions. ‘In the cells, he been rape me.’ I was shocked by her candour.  

‘Yeah, he rooted all of us,’ one of her friends piped up.

…’Anytime he can take us off to the station.’

Roberta Sykes’ account of young girls’ experiences in country New South Wales, from her autobiography Snake Circle.  Read full excerpt here. Click here


On colonised ground, the function of the police is inseparable from the apparatus of occupation. On the frontier police operated as a paramilitary force that both actively participated in and tacitly sanctioned acts of extreme violence against Indigenous people, especially women and children. In addition to acts of killing, rape and forced dispersal, the police in Australia, as in Canada, participated in the removal of children from their families well into the twentieth century. In 1991, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission released an inquiry into racist violence in Australia which details allegations of sexual assault and harassment perpetrated by white police officers against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls (88-89).

The ‘Broken Trust’ report released in December 2018 details historical and contemporary distrust between Indigenous communities in and around Thunder Bay and the Thunder Bay Police Service in Canada, which is notorious for systemic racism. A Human Rights Watch investigation also documented Indigenous women’s accounts of police neglect when they reported domestic violence, as well as experiences of harassment and assault by police in Saskatchewan. Another Human Rights Watch report, ‘Those Who Take Us Away’, documents ongoing police failures to protect Indigenous women and girls from violence as well as violence perpetrated by police against them.

 

Racist Bullying Kills

A quote from June Oscar overlayed on a photo from a Black Lives Matter protest. The quote reads, 'The constant exposure to racism in our daily lives, in the media, hearing it in our parliament, dealing with it every day undermines our sense of self. It can erode self-worth, and our confidence in engaging in the world around us. It certainly contributes to collective feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness that leads to far too many of our people taking their lives. The experts are telling us that racism is a factor in the suicide crisis gripping our communities.'

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Quote: June Oscar. Background Photo: Charandev Singh. Black Lives Matter Protest, Narrm.

Following her 2019 nationwide consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls for the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) project, June Oscar, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, found that, ‘in the same breath as they told me about their strengths and dreams’  the girls also told ‘stories of constant bullying from classmates whose insults were heavy with racist sentiments’.

The lethal effects of racist bullying are evident in the case of Rochelle Pryor, a 14 year-old school girl at Fremantle College, who was found unconscious after sending her friends a message, ‘Once I’m gone, the bullying and the racism will stop’.  She was hospitalised and died nine days later.

She was the fifth indigenous girl in the country to die by suicide in a nine-day period in January 2019.

Although the causes of these deaths are complex, racist bullying looms as a significant factor among the forms of violence that assail Indigenous girls and young women.

Slow Violence: the relationship between suicide and gendered and racial violence

A badge is pinned to a red piece of fabric. The badge reads '#SuicideIsGenocide' with a broken heart icon.

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Ground Zero INAC Toronto, 2017. Photo: Michelle Bui.

Noongar human rights researcher and advocate Hannah McGlade writes of how the suicides of Indigenous girls have in some cases been linked to experiences of family violence and sexual abuse within a broader context that also includes colonisation and the lack of self determination. This was a question raised following the suicides of Susan Taylor in Western Australia and Kunmanara Forbes in the Northern Territory, both aged 15. Between January and March 2019 there were 35 suicides of Indigenous people, several of whom were young women and girls. A number of commentators, including Najmal psychologist Tracy Westerman, highlight the lack of media and public concern over these deaths, reinforcing the sense that the broader community does not value the lives of Indigenous children.


‘What unfolds are stories of lives lived in the shadow of state institutions – government bureaucracies, medical services, housing authorities, child protection services, schools – and their systematic failures. This chain of “missed opportunities”, everyday omissions, and actions incrementally “forgotten” or neglected in the press of other demands adds up to something much more. It represents nothing less than the systematic imposition of a form of slow violence whose lethal consequences continue to unfold over time.’

 Suvendrini Perera on recent inquest findings into the deaths of 13 children and young persons who died in the Kimberley region of Western Australia


Slow violence also characterises the lives of First Nations youth in Canada whose suicide rates parallel those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in Australia.

 

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‘Mother (pram)’, Mother series, inkjet print on paper, 80×120cm, 2016. Artist: Michael Cook. Image used with permission.

Dying Outside

‘In 1988, amid calls for a royal commission to investigate black deaths in prison cells and police watch houses, Aboriginal women argued that it was also important to consider the level of violent deaths of our people outside of these places. At that time we were concerned that while a death in a watch-house received frenzied media attention, a suicide on the same day, in the same community, was viewed with no concern at all by the authorities.’

Judy Atkinson, ‘Violence against Aboriginal Women: Reconstitution of Community Law — the Way Forward’ Aboriginal Law Bulletin (1990)

Deaths outside the formal custody of the state

Two young Indigenous women hold up placards in a crowd at an invasion day protest. One reads 'Always is always will be our land' and the other reads 'Stop killing our people'.

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Invasion Day Protest, Naarm (Melbourne), 2019. Photo: Charandev Singh.

Following Australia’s landmark study into Aboriginal deaths in custody, Bundjalung academic Judy Atkinson was among Indigenous women who called for investigation of the different ways in which Aboriginal women die outside the formal custody of the state.


‘More Aboriginal women have died from violent assault in a number of communities than all the deaths in custody in the states concerned. For example more women have died from violent assaults in one town in the NT over the past five years than all the deaths in custody in the NT over the same period. Likewise in Queensland, more women have died in one community than all the deaths in custody in that State. A serious concern is that often the cause of death is reported as natural eg pneumonia, when the woman has suffered a severe beating three days previously; and too often, no charges are laid. According to a recent report from the Peninsula, five women have died in the last year through violent assaults and no charges have been laid.’ 

Judy Atkinson (1990, 6)


Disparities in Convictions

A woman stands at the centre of the photo with her back towards us in the expanse of a lush, green forest. She has long black hair and is wearing a red dress.

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MMIWG series, 2019. Photo: Aaron Tambour and Michelle Buckley.

In 2018, Cree Senator Lillian Dyck co-authored a paper that analysed data from around 800 cases involving violence against women between 1980 and 2013. She found a disparity in convictions for those who kill Indigenous women and those who kill non-Indigenous women. The delivery of more serious convictions in non-Indigenous femicide cases reflects how the lives of Indigenous women are afforded lesser value by the state. Another finding was that Indigenous women were targeted by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous killers, while non-Indigenous women were targeted ‘almost exclusively by non-Indigenous perpetrators.’

Likewise, in 2012 the New York Times reported that charges are filed in only about half of Indian Country murder investigations and nearly two-thirds of sexual assault cases are turned down.

Representations: Snare

A group of Indigenous women stand together in a circle, with their hands to their sides and looking towards the centre of the circle. They all wear white dresses and have their hair tied up. White feathers float down on them contrasting against the plain black background.

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Anishinaabe filmmaker Lisa Jackson’s short film ‘SNARE’ remembers the  Indigenous women who die outside. A group of women wearing white dresses walk bare foot on the earth in a circle. Each is caught by a snare, as if preyed upon or hunted by someone unknown. They hang suspended in mid-air, appearing lifeless or frozen. Then, as feathers fall down from above, they are slowly lowered back to the ground. They re-emerge in a circle suggestive of a shared experience of community, healing and survival. Each looks into the camera for the first time. No longer anonymous bodies, they become people with whom viewers can identify. Staring directly at us, a woman begins to sing ‘O Canada’, the national anthem, in Cree, an act that calls on the Canadian state to be accountable for the violence perpetrated against Indigenous women.

 

The following sections document the disparate spaces and sites in which Indigenous women die outside formal state custody. These are scattered sites: The Road, The River, The Street, The Home. Each of these scattered sites is bound up with specific histories, institutions and representations, but they are linked to one another through the lethal operations of Indigenous femicide in the settler state.

The instances listed here are incomplete and partial. We invite additional information regarding these and other instances of Indigenous women and girls who die outside.

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Tracey Moffat, Something More # 9, 1989. Series of 9 images. Cibachrome. 98 x 127 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

In Tracey Moffatt’s 1989 series Something More, a young woman’s yearning to escape her rural surroundings ends in the image of a brutal death, a body sprawled on an open road three hundred miles from the city of Brisbane.  The image all too graphically invokes the deaths of Indigenous women on country roads and highways in the years before and since.

The Road

Targeted and Trafficked

Screenshot from video. Woman on the left side and the words 'Direct effect of colonization' on the right.

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Screenshot, ‘Native Women Talk Sex Trafficking‘, 2017. Source: Global Citizen. 


‘While the trafficking of girls and women from Aboriginal communities across BC and Canada is undoubtedly an issue of pressing concern given the heightened risk factors … trafficking must be addressed as part of a legacy of sexualised violence rather than a new issue … Additionally, it must not be divorced from the normalised violence in our communities, nor the sexual exploitation of children and youth, but must be seen as integrally linked to the ongoing project of colonial violence.’

Sarah Hunt (2010)


The road as a space of vulnerability and violence for Indigenous women and girls refers back to the enforced colonial trafficking of Indigenous bodies across borders. Contemporary deaths on roads and highways, Sarah Hunt emphasises, can be traced back to colonial practices.

In the present, these histories are compounded by chronic poverty, the lure of urban life and the increasingly derelict landscapes of rural communities. In exposing the traffic in Indigenous women in the context of Cheyenne River, Jessica Ashley articulates the connection between economic disenfranchisement and human trafficking: ‘Poverty and human trafficking go hand-in-hand, and often, perpetrators target areas with high poverty rates. And on Cheyenne River, the poverty rate is shocking.”

In Tracey Moffat’s acclaimed photographic series, Something More, a young woman’s search for a more fulfilling life away from her rural surrounds finds a brutal end on the road to the city of Brisbane. As Sarah Hunt notes, young Indigenous women and girls are targeted by multiple forms of violence along the road: ‘More overt recruitment into sexual exploitation was also reported by front-line service providers who said that young men from the city were picking up Aboriginal girls walking along rural roads, looking to take them to the city “to party”, which may have lead to sexual exploitation’ (2010).

 

Histories of Trafficking

An Indigenous woman wearing a long blue dress is kneeling on wet sand at a beach with the ocean behind her. Her hands are bound together with rope that is being pulled by a white man who is trying to drag her across the sand. Her head is up looking toward the sky as if she is trying to resist his strength and crying out. He looks casually at the camera.

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‘Oyster Fishermen #11’, The Oyster Fishermen, inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper, Edition 15, 60x80cm, 2011. Artist: Fiona Foley. Image courtesy of the artist.


‘Aboriginal girls in rural areas were trading sexual favors for transportation, food, clothing, shelter, drugs and alcohol.  The colonial state, in its past and current roles, acts as a trafficker of Indigenous bodies, especially women’

Sarah Deer (2010)



‘The whole east coast of Queensland was known for its treatment of Aboriginal men, women and children, who were often taken by force onto fishing vessels … the kidnapping of women not only for their labour but also to satisfy the sexual needs of an otherwise almost entirely male fishing population …The pressure of sexual abduction, assault and infection by venereal disease on Aboriginal women created insecurity. There was no safe environment from marauding white males bent on sexual raids.’

Fiona Foley (2017, 86)


Robyn Bourgeois notes that ‘the centrality of human trafficking to the historical and ongoing settler colonial project of the Canadian nation state [is] essential to understanding and addressing the trafficking of indigenous women and girls in Canada.’ (Bourgeois 2015, 1433). Badtjala artist Fiona Foley’s work, ‘The Oyster Fishermen’, traces the journey of a young Aboriginal woman, abducted and violently forced into work in the fishing industry. Foley’s series of photographs speaks to the histories of women targeted, kidnapped, exploited and abused in the process of building the core industries developed by settlers in the nineteenth century. Mining, farming, pearling and whaling all involved distinctive forms of violent, and in some instances lethal, exploitation for Indigenous women and children. Colonial massacres resulted in some instances from Aboriginal resistance to the sexual exploitation of women and girls, as in the case of the Ravensthorpe massacre in Western Australia.

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Julie Gough, Some of our women kidnapped by sealers 2007, inkjet print, edition of 10, framed in Tasmanian oak, 83 x 118 cm.

‘What people don’t understand is that I’m dealing with this every day. It never leaves you…I’ve lost a twin. It’s like I’ve lost a limb.’

Rhoda Roberts, Lois Robert’s twin sister

Lois Roberts: A Sister’s Love

A photo taken in a forest of what appears to be rocks in the foreground that might be a dry riverbed, with trees and bushes in the background.

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Still from ‘A Sister’s Love’. Film can be accessed via the Culture Unplugged site.

Rhoda Roberts, a woman from the Widjabul clan of the Bundjalung nation, is widely known for her work as an actor, journalist, broadcaster and artistic director.  In the documentary ‘A Sister’s Love’, directed by Ivan Sen, Rhoda Roberts speaks of the loss of her twin sister, Lois, describing how Lois nearly died from life-threatening injuries after a car accident just before their 21st birthday. The accident changed the course of Lois’s and her family’s life. Rhoda recalls that her sister, who had always been a fighter and her protector, underwent a drastic change after her head injury and the slow rehabilitation process that followed, leaving her vulnerable to being preyed upon.

Recounting their childhood, Rhoda remembers the fear that the sisters felt of being taken from school and permanently removed from their family. This fear continued to haunt Lois’s life following the birth of her son and daughter.  She  entrusted her children to her mother and sister, knowing they would be at risk of forced removal if they remained in her own care. Rhoda would later have to battle for the custody of her nephew who was indeed taken away and placed in foster care.

 

Cold Justice

The 'Cold Justice' title is surrounded by photos of four Indigenous people - two women and two men - who have been killed in unjust circumstances.

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Cold Justice – Lois Roberts‘, Season 2, Episode 4, SBS, 2017.

Lois Roberts was last seen on 31 July 1998 around 5:30pm after missing a bus home and walking down the road to try to hitchhike back, as she had done countless times before. In the following days, her family became concerned that she was missing. When they approached the police to file a missing person’s report and seek assistance, they were not taken seriously. The police suggested that Lois had just ‘gone walkabout’ or probably went off with a man. An Aboriginal woman viewed by police as sexually deviant, Lois’s disappearance was not considered worthy of investigation. Her family instead undertook the searches that the police should have.  Six months after Lois’s disappearance, her body was found in the Whian Whian Forrest, marked by signs of extreme violence and abuse. In 2002, Lois and Rhoda’s cousin Lucy McDonald also went missing and to date has not been found.

The apathy of the police in the case of Lois Roberts was reflected in the community. When a German backpacker went missing some years later, the town mounted a significant community response,  though they had remained indifferent to Lois’s fate. The difference in the level of regard for the two missing women could not but strike Lois’s family.

The ‘Walkabout’ Narrative


‘We know that somebody has killed her…She hasn’t just done a runner or gone walkabout.’

Margaret, Cheryl Ardler’s sister


‘I kept arguing with them and saying to them Evelyn didn’t go walkabout, she’s a four-year-old kid.’

Aunty of Evelyn Greenup


‘On that day we went to the police station and they turned around and said to mum and myself, ‘Oh, did she go walkabout?’ That was their reaction. We thought they were supposed to be there to help us and we didn’t get the help.’

Rose Griffin, Colleen Walker’s Sister



‘They really didn’t care about a missing Aboriginal woman. They thought she had gone off with a man or gone walkabout.’

Rhoda Roberts, Lois Robert’s sister


A pattern becomes evident as attempts by families of missing Aboriginal women and girls to report their concerns to authorities. The families are met with disbelief, suspicion, indifference or a refusal to take them seriously.  Several families report police suggestions that their loved ones had just ‘gone walkabout’ and would turn up eventually. Police reluctance to act resulted in vital delays in filing missing persons reports and led to poor investigation processes that left families struggling for decades, as in the case of  the Bowraville children. In some cases, relatives of missing women describe being treated as suspects themselves rather than as families trying to locate their daughters and sisters.

Cindy and Mona Smith

A red dress hangs from a tree, sunlight shines through the canopy projecting shadows onto the dress.

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The REDress campaign to remember Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canada was conceptualised by Winnipeg Métis artist Jamie Black, who called for red dresses to be hung in public spaces across the nation as ‘a visual reminder’ of the ‘gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women.  The Red Dress has since become an international symbol. Photo: REDress in Fremantle by Suvendrini Perera.

In Australia, the deaths of Cindy and Mona Smith show how white men can sexually exploit and kill Indigenous girls with impunity.  In December 1987, the ‘happy-go-lucky’ 15 and 16 year-old cousins, who were described as inseparable, accepted a lift from a middle aged white man. Only hours later, their bodies were found laying in the wreckage of his ute on Mitchell Highway north of the small NSW town of Bourke. The highly intoxicated but unharmed driver was found with his arm over Cindy’s near naked body. He walked free after the charge of sexual misconduct was withdrawn by police.


‘To hear what happened to these girls, and he walked free. Oh man! … if it had been two little white girls, it would have been a different matter. And if it was a black man (with two white girls) he would have been locked up there and then, thrown away the keys, still in jail today.’

June Smith, Mona’s mother


In 2017 the man died at age 70 in an aged care home. The families have spoken of how inequality before the law impacted upon the court proceedings and of their belief that if Cindy and Mona had been white girls and the perpetrator a Black man, there would have been a very different outcome. Over the past 30 years Cindy and Mona Smith’s families have been denied justice; following the death of the perpetrator it is unlikely that they will ever receive anything close to it.

Theresa Binge

Quote from Elizabeth Bartholomew (Theresa Binge's sister) which reads "I bet if my sister was a white girl murdered in Brisbane then her killer would have already been found and brought to justice."

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Theresa Binge was a 43 year-old mother of three. She was part of a big family and grew up in the town of Toomelah, a former Aboriginal Mission.  She was a survivor of domestic violence who was described as bright, bubbly, cheeky, and devoted to her kids and grandchildren.

Theresa Binge was last seen at the Victoria Hotel in Goondiwindi in the early hours of 18 July 2003. Her family reported her missing when she failed to attend a family gathering on 21 July 2003. Her naked body was found 8 days later under a culvert on Boomi Road.

Eleven years later a white woman, Alexis Jeffery, went missing like Theresa after being seen at a hotel in Goondiwindi. Her killer was arrested in a matter of months, while Theresa Binge’s murder remains unsolved. On the anniversary of her death, her family and community rallied in Goondiwindi to call for justice.  However, they are still looking for answers. The denial of closure has deeply impacted upon her children and grandchildren, as detailed in a powerful video series Cold Justice by Muruwari journalist Allan Clarke.

 

Mystery Road and a grim timeline of violence


‘But I’m almost over anger because it’s been happening forever, especially to indigenous women’ 

Ivan Sen, Interview with  Sharon Verghis, The Australian, September 21, 2013


An interview Sen gave during the release of Mystery Road refers to a ‘grim timeline’ of missing and murdered women from his own biography. His 2004 documentary, Who Was Evelyn Orcher? investigates ‘the abduction of his grandmother’s sister as a child from her home in Toomelah, NSW, in 1949. In this case, Orcher, a member of the Stolen Generation, was not taken by a random stranger but by government welfare workers’. In the interview Sen refers to three other women in his family who went missing ‘Eight years, five years and three years ago… [One] was last seen in a bar with some cowboy … a week later she was found under the road. Her killer was never found’ (Verghis 2013).

In his acclaimed film Mystery Road (2013), Ivan Sen reworks the genre of the outback Western and the figure of the Aboriginal black tracker, the classic in-between figure of colonial history, through the character of an Aboriginal policeman, Jay Swan.  Swan is called  to investigate the mutilated body of a young girl found in a culvert, reminding us of the real life death of Theresa Binge, a relative of Sen’s, a decade earlier. At the same time, Mystery Road references present-day stories of young girls lured into trucks for sex in the mining towns of Western Australia.

Sen’s 2016 sequel, Goldstone places Jay Swan in a small mining town where the search for a missing tourist leads to a trail of young Chinese women being trafficked to supply forced sex for the fly-in fly-out workforce. The films track parallel histories of the traffic in racialised women’s bodies against a landscape marked by exploitation of the land and unremitting settler violence.

Through his documentaries about Lois Roberts and Evelyn Orcher and his feature films, Mystery Road and Goldstone, Sen, whose own Gamillaroi  mother was taken away at the age of fourteen to labour on a remote farm ‘as the government’s child slave’, has produced a chilling, though mostly unremarked, national archive of the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women.

Known deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls along the road [Australia]

We acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive record of all missing or murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2-spirit people. We have attempted to pull together information available in the public domain, but understand this cannot encompass unreported or under-reported deaths and disappearances.

1987: Cindy Smith (15 years), Bourke NSW

1987: Mona Smith (16 years), Bourke NSW

1998: Lois Roberts (38 years), last seen hitchhiking back home, body later found in Whian Whian Forrest, Lismore NSW

2003: Theresa Beatrice Binge, murdered – body found beneath concrete culvert, Goondiwindi QLD

2009: 48 year old woman, run over Stuart Park NT

2012:  Cheryl Ardler, last seen with partner at a bus stop, Cranebrook NSW

2013: 27 year old woman, found dead near Buntine Highway/Kalkarindji NT

2016: 34 year old woman, found dead in a car, Connie Sue Highway, WA

2017: Rebecca Hayward, Alice Springs NT (missing), last seen walking along Stuart Highway 

‘When you’re walking on the highway, you feel the spirits of those women… The blisters that I got on my leg were always nursed by the other walkers, and they were nothing compared to the hole in my brother’s heart, missing Tamara.’

Gladys Radek, Gitxsan/Wet’suwet’en First Nations, Aunty of Tamara Chipman

Canada: The Highway of Tears

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‘Highway of Tears: 360 Video’ on The Current, 2016. Video: CBC.

In 2002 a non-Indigenous woman went missing along Highway 16 in northern British Columbia. As a result of the media coverage of her disappearance, it was revealed that eight Indigenous girls between the ages of 14 and 25 had also gone missing or were found murdered along the same highway. It is now understood that dozens of women and girls have disappeared along what has become known as the ‘Highway of Tears’. The majority of them are Indigenous.

In 2005, the RCMP initiated ‘Project E-Pana‘ to investigate the cases of 18 missing and murdered women, 10 of whom were Indigenous. Part of the criteria for this investigation was that victims had to be involved in hitchhiking or what RCMP termed ‘other high risk behaviour’, for example being a sex worker. The use of this description feeds into stereotypes about Indigenous women and at some level imputes a degree of blame to the women for their own disappearances and — too often — their own violent murders.

The ‘high risk’ narrative

A small billboard protrudes out of bushes and in front of trees. It reads 'Hitchhiking - Is it worth the risk?' with an icon of a person's hand making a hitchhiking gesture with a strike through it and an illustration of a young woman walked alone down a highway lined with crosses and smaller text that reads 'ain't worth the risk, sister'.

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Published on ‘A Thousand Turns…notes on finding my way home’ blog, 2009. Photo: Anna Kortschak.


‘Stereotypes about the sexual availability and willingness of Aboriginal girls and women has resulted in generations of sexual violence and abuse continuing outside the law, as though it was not illegal to rape or batter an Aboriginal woman.’

Sarah Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw)


Multiple billboards along the Highway of Tears present hitchhiking as a dangerous mode of mobility that threatens the safety of Indigenous women and girls in particular. They construct hitchhiking as a bad or risky form of mobility that makes Indigenous women and girls prone to victimisation. The actual threat – male violence – is obscured. The focus is on the ‘lifestyle choices’ and ‘behaviours’ of Indigenous women and girls rather than the colonial and racist attitudes that fuel gendered and racialised violence. While the billboards attempt to deter women and girls from hitchhiking, they do not suggest an alternative form of mobility that would be accessible and safe  (Morton, 2016). Like the ‘gone walkabout’ narrative in Australia, the focus on the risky ‘lifestyle’ of Indigenous women draws on colonial stereotypes of  the wayward, unreliable and ungovernable native.


‘Of all of the hurtful experiences associated with the vanishing of a loved one, one of the most is the racism displayed when our First Nations loved ones disappear. We hear things like “I heard she was just a party animal,” or, “Was she wanted by the cops?” Or, the worst of all, that she “lived a high-risk lifestyle.” These labels have taught mainstream society that all our women and girls are just that – prostitutes, addicts and hitchhikers, and therefore not worthy of care or effort.’

Gladys Radek, Aunty of Tamara Chipman quoted in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG


‘You better not be taking me anywhere I don’t want to go.’

Amber Tuccaro, Mikisew Cree First Nation

Amber Tuccaro


‘I am 56 years old now and raising a little boy that is so full of energy… He drives me crazy but at the same time, he’s my sanity. I mean, he is all that I have left of my baby.’

Vivian Tuccaro, Mother of Amber Tuccaro


Amber Alyssa Tuccaro was a young mother from Mikisew Cree First Nation who loved to sing and was known for making people laugh. She was last seen on 18 August 2010 setting out to hitchhike into Edmonton from the nearby town of Nisku. She was picked up by a man in a vehicle and during the ride managed to covertly call her brother, who at the time was being held in the Edmonton Remand Centre. The seventeen-minute call was recorded as a matter of routine. On the recording, only parts of which were released by the RCMP, Amber’s increasingly panicked voice can be heard: Where are we by? Where are we going?  An unidentified male voice assures Amber that they are on a backroad that would eventually lead to the city. After the call abruptly disconnected Amber Tuccaro was never heard from again. Two years later her remains were found in a farmer’s field.

When Amber’s mother reported concerns about her whereabouts, police suggested that she was just out partying and ‘would call her or something’. Her mother battled to get Amber’s name onto the missing persons list. A review by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission later found that the RCMP investigation was ‘deficient’ in several ways and that ‘various members did not comply with various policies, procedures and guidelines’.

In July 2019 the RCMP announced it would make a formal apology to Amber’s family. Nine years after she went missing and seven years after her body was found, her killer or killers remain unknown.

Known deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls on the road [Canada]

We acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive record of all missing or murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2-spirit people. We have attempted to pull together information available in the public domain, but understand that this cannot encompass unreported or under-reported deaths and disappearances.

1969: Gloria Levina Moody, found dead

1978: Monica Jack (12 years), disappeared while riding her bike, remains found in 1996

1978: Mary Jane Hill (31 years), body found naked along highway of tears

1989: Alberta Williams (24 years), body found near Prince Rupert several weeks after disappearance

1989: Cecilia Nikal (18 years), last seen near Highway 16

1989: Bernadette Lynda Ahenakew (22 years), body discovered in a ditch beside a rural road near Sherwood Park, Alberta

1990: Delphine Nikal (16 years), last seen hitchhiking from Smithers to Telkwa

1994: Roxanne Thiara (15 years), found dead just off Highway 16 near Burns Lake

1994: Alishia Germaine (15 years), murdered

1994: Ramona Wilson (16 years), found dead 10 months after disappearance

1995: Lana Derrick (19 years), last seen at a gas station near Terrace

2006: Aielah Saric Auger (14 years), body found in ditch along Highway 16

2006: Tamara Chipman (22 years), disappeared after hitchhiking along Highway 16

2008: Claudette Osborne (21 years), last seen with truck driver in Winnipeg

2010: Amber Tuccaro (20 years), remains found in 2012 on outskirts of Edmonton

2010: Cynthia Maas (35 years), body found in L.C. Gunn Park, Prince George

2018: Jessica Patrick (18 years), remains found outside Smithers

2018: Brittany Martel (27 years), Highway 5 BC

2018: Candace Stevens (31 years), Upper Derby

Community Responses

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‘The Highway’, Kitsumkalum First Nation BC, 2017. Artists: N’we Jinan Artists with students at Na Aksa Gyilak’yoo School.

Some communities have responded to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women along the Highway of Tears by reclaiming it as a space of memorial and protest.

Gladys Radek, whose niece Tamara Chipman disappeared along the Highway of Tears, co-founded Walk4Justice, an annual walk to raise awareness and seek justice for missing and murdered women.  As part of this campaign, participants walk 4000km, partly along Highway 16, from Vancouver to Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Ramona Wilson’s sister, Brenda, has been organising an annual Ramona Wilson Memorial Walk for over two decades where family, friends and community members walk the same stretch of highway where Ramona took her final steps.

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MMIWG series, 2019. Photo: Aaron Tambour and Michelle Buckley.

The River

‘It’s not just the Red River, but water is what connects us all. Water of life is everywhere. There are bodies of water that we need to survive, but at the same time, we are all drowning. As Indigenous women we are drowning in injustice – but if we can infuse that healing through our voice and whatever it is that makes our spirits sing, the source of the hurt can be the source of the healing.’

Tanaya Winder on Sing Our Rivers Red (Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations)

Rivers of Blood

Rivers and waterways are sacred sources of life to Indigenous peoples, but many major massacres during the Frontier Wars took place alongside rivers, where Aboriginal people lived. In Australia, as in Canada, colonists violently cleared Aboriginal bodies from what they claimed as good pastoral lands, leaving rivers of blood in their wake. ‘The river ran red that day with all our mob’, Noongar Elder Fred Nannup recounted of the Pinjarra Massacre of 1834, one of the most notorious massacre sites in Australia, on the banks of the Murray River in WA.  Rivers are also the sites of contemporary deaths for Aboriginal people in Australia, from the dry Todd River bed in Alice Springs to the rivers into which people leap to escape police pursuit.

In Canada, the bodies of Indigenous women continue to be disposed of in rivers, most notoriously the Red River, with the intention of concealing violent crimes and eliminating culpability. Authorities often refuse to search rivers, raising the question of how many missing Indigenous women, girls and Two Spirit people have been massacred and forced into watery graves. Activists and artists continue to find ways to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls murdered in the river. In January 2019 Métis artist Jaime Black sculpted the figures of the dead on the frozen surface of the Red River in one such act of memorialisation.

 

The Todd Riverbed

A map graphic showing streets in Alice Spring with a red River cutting through the centre. Along the river markers and dates are mapped that correspond to deaths of Indigenous women.

The dry Todd Riverbed that cuts through Alice Springs in central Australia is a racially marked and politically charged site. It was here that the racist killing of 33 year-old Kumantaye Ryder by five white men took place in 2009. It is also a site where a chilling sequence of violations, rapes, assaults, deaths and murders of Aboriginal women can be documented:

– 1999: Cheryl Anthea Braedon (21 years), Todd Riverbed NT 

– 2009: Kwementyaye Tilmouth (41 years) Aboriginal woman found dead in Todd Riverbed, NT

– 2011: 25 year old Aboriginal woman found dead in dry Todd Riverbed, NT

– 2013: Aboriginal woman found dead in dry Todd Riverbed, NT

– 2013: Aboriginal woman found dead in dry Todd Riverbed, NT

 

Red River Stories

Words from a poem line the edge of a building, they read 'this river is the reason we are all here / she carried us all / on her broad brown back / without complaint'

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This river is the reason we are all here/she carried us all/on her broad brown back/without complaint. Lines from a poem by Katherena Vermette engraved on a building at the University of Manitoba. Photo: Barry Lavallee.


I need to hear
the stories of the river
about when she was young
and her brown water
clean
loved
Katherena Vermette, ‘riverstory’, in river woman


this river is a woman
she’s been dredged
and dragged
metal coils catch
her tangled hair
everyone wants to know
her secrets but
she keeps them
won’t let them go
unless she trusts you
unless you ask real nice
unless she just
feels like it

Katherena Vermette, ‘river woman


 

Red River Women: a river full of secrets


‘So many people have lost their lives in the Red River — either by violence, chance, or choice — and only a few have ever been found…’

Katherena Vermette


‘They just think no-one is waiting for us, that nobody cares about us, that we’re disposable’

Bernadette Smith, Claudette Osborne’s sister


The bodies of several women and girls have been found in the Red River, leaving families with missing loved ones wondering how many more rest beneath the surface. Felicia Solomon, Audrey Desjarlais, Tina Fontaine and April Carpenter are just a few of the Indigenous women and girls known to have been dumped in the Red River. Rinelle Harper could have been one of them, after being violently assaulted at the edge of the Assiniboine River. She managed to crawl out, was discovered by people passing by and rushed to hospital.  Since then she is an advocate on behalf of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

This River

A poem written on a plain background reads 'indians drown / the family finds out / happens everyday / this land floods / with dead indians / this river swells / freezes / breaks open / cold arms of ice / welcomes indians'

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Screenshot of opening poem ‘indians’ by Katherena Vermette, ‘This River’.  


‘I do if for my sister – she’s [been] missing since November 2010. I don’t hope to find her in here but if she is, I want to get her. The police won’t do it, nobody else will.’

Kyle Kematch


The documentary ‘This River’ begins with a poem by Katherena Vermette that speaks of the mass of hidden Indigenous bodies that the Red River holds and conceals. The community-led initiative, ‘Drag the Red’, which inspired the film, highlights the search efforts carried out by families hoping to find their missing loved ones – in stark contrast to the extreme indifference of state authorities. As volunteers who lack the resources of a police department search the river, they pull out underwear, strands of hair and miscellaneous objects. As they do so, they face the prospect that they could be about to uncover the body of someone known to them. Filmed almost entirely on the river and centred on the experiences of Indigenous people who continue to search for their loved ones, the documentary provides a sense of how expansive and powerful the river is, and of the overwhelming nature of the task that the volunteers face.

Known deaths of Indigenous women and girls in rivers and riverbeds

We acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive record of all missing or murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2-spirit people. We have attempted to pull together information available in the public domain, but understand that this cannot encompass unreported or under-reported deaths and disappearances.

1961: Jean Mocharski, Alexander Docks (Canada)

1975: 26 year old woman, Fitzroy River Rockhampton QLD [Australia]

1990: Colleen Walker (16 years), body never found but clothes found weighed down by rocks in a bag in the Nambucca River [Australia]  

1991: Lynda (36 years), Fitzroy River Rockhampton QLD [Australia]  

1999: Cheryl Anthea Braedon (21 years), Todd Riverbed NT [Australia] 

2003: Felicia Solomon (16 years), dismembered body parts found in Red River months after disappearance  [Canada]

2005: Lateesha Nolan (24 years), disappeared from Dubbo, bones found in 2016 near Riverbank [Australia]

2009: Kwementyaye Tilmouth (41 years), found dead in Todd Riverbed, NT [Australia]

2011: Aboriginal woman found dead in dry Todd Riverbed, NT [Australia]

2012: Audrey Desjarlais (52 years)  [Canada]

2013: Aboriginal woman found dead in dry Todd Riverbed, NT [Australia]

2013: Aboriginal woman found dead in dry Todd Riverbed, NT [Australia]

2014: Tina Fontaine (15 years), body found in the Red River [Canada]

2016: Annie Pootoogook, body found in Rideau River [Canada]

2017: Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind (22 years), 8 month pregnant woman  [US]

2018: April Carpenter (23 years), body found in the Red River [Canada]

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Laurel Nannup, Quirriup 2016 (second state), Woodcut print on rag paper, 120 x 100 cm. Photo: Simon Hewson, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Campbelltown Arts Centre. 

Tina Fontaine

Nine days after her disappearance,  the body of 15 year-old Tina Fontaine was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg on August 17, 2014. She had been wrapped in plastic and a doona cover. Tina was in the care of the Manitoba Child Care Family Services just a few weeks before she was reported missing.


‘The CFS (Children and Family Services) system has definitely failed Tina Fontaine, the Winnipeg Police Services failed Tina Fontaine and Canadian society failed Tina Fontaine’

Kevin Hartregional chief of the Assembly of First Nations


 

‘I am angry. I am hurt. My baby might still be here  instead of buried on top of her dad’ 

Thelma Favel, Tina Fontaine’s great-aunt and primary caregiver

‘Her voice was stolen’

Quote from Thelma Favel which reads 'There is no sense. They just don't care. Nobody seems to care when it comes to Aboriginal children...As long as they get their pay cheques and do a little bit of work and make a couple of phone calls.' The quote is overlaid on a photo of a frozen river.

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Tina Michelle Fontaine, an Inuit and Métis girl, spent much of her brief life on the Sagkeeng First Nation community, 120 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Tina lived with her great aunt Thelma Favel, Thelma’s husband and her younger sister, Sarah.  ‘She was a kind girl who liked to study math and science and had lots of friends and never got into trouble’ her aunt recounted.

In June 2014 Tina left her aunt’s care to go to Winnipeg to reconnect with her birth mother. Tina is reported to have been very affected by the impending trial into her father’s murder. He was beaten to death in a violent bar brawl in 2011, a loss that deeply affected Tina. She was asked to write a victim impact statement for the court.

For about six weeks before her disappearance, Tina became the ward of the Manitoba Child and Family Services. She came into contact with social workers, police and the health care system, and was housed in a series of hostels and hotels.

 

 

The pipeline from ‘child welfare’ to MMIG

A mural of Tina Fontaine, a teenager girl with dark eyes and hair and a broad smile, being painted onto a wall by another teenage girl.

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Portrait of Tina Fontaine, Bayview Primary, Glenfield, New Zealand, 2018. Artist: Emily Gardner.


‘Labelling MMIWG2S [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and two-spirit people] as high-risk, trafficked/prostituted, troubled runaways but not acknowledging the forced child-welfare policies that put Indigenous people at risk for violence, disappearance, and death is both disingenuous and dangerous.’
Colleen Hele, Naomi Sayers, and Jessica Wood


A fatal timeline

Tina’s movements during the last twelve hours when she was seen alive are documented by a range of sources. At the time she was under the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services (CFS), and had broken curfew and been reported missing several times.

  • Around 5am on the morning of August 8 2014, police pulled up a vehicle Tina was in, but failed to identify her as a missing person.
  • A few hours later she was found asleep in a parking lot, unable to be roused. Paramedics arrived and she was taken to a Children’s Hospital, where a doctor examined her and a social worker contacted the Southeast Child and Family Services agency. She was discharged into the care of a Family Services social worker.
  • The social worker checked Tina into the the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel in downtown Winnipeg, advised Tina not to go out again, and left her in the care of a respite worker.
  • Despite the respite worker’s urging, Tina left the hotel shortly after she arrived. An hour and a half after she missed her curfew, the respite worker reported her missing.
  • Her body was found in the Red River eight days later.

 

 

 

‘Tina was a child. She did not die because her father was murdered. She did not die because she was suffering in pain from her father’s death. She did not die because she wasn’t living with her mother, as she was lovingly cared for by her auntie. She did not die because, like all teenagers, she tried drugs and alcohol. Tina did not kill herself. Tina died because federal, provincial and state agencies charged with keeping her safe, all failed to protect her. And for that, Canada should stand trial…Tina’s death is not on Tina or her family or community. It’s on Canada.’

Pam Palmater, Mi’kmaw activist and lawyer

Failed by systems

State systems from Child Services to the the police badly failed Tina Fontaine and her family.

The police: At 5am on August 8 and 12 hours before Tina’s disappearance, two police officers failed to identify that Tina was on a missing person’s list despite checking her name through the computer system after stopping a truck in which she was a passenger.  At the trial, the driver, Richard Mohammed, would testify that he had picked Tina up after seeing her on the sidewalk and asking  if she wanted to ‘party’. He claimed not to know how old she was. The police took Mohammed into custody for driving with a suspended licence, and let Tina go, despite the fact that she was evidently under age.


‘It is unfathomable that police officers would not take into their care a teenage girl who is reported missing…It appears to be a systemic failure from top to bottom…This is an example of what’s going on across the country.’ 

Cameron Alexis, Alberta regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations and a retired RCMP


The hospital: Later, at 10:30am paramedics attended to Tina after a member of the public alerted security of a young girl who appeared to have passed out in a parking lot. The paramedics took her to the Children’s Hospital where  a doctor examined her.  Dr Andrea Wilkie Gilmore later testified that she suspected Tina had been sexually exploited, but after Tina declined a physical examination and did not want to answer questions, she was discharged in the company of a social worker, Kimberly Chute, who gave her lunch and arranged a room for Tina to sleep in that night.

Child Services: During lunch Tina told Chute that she was ‘hanging out’ with a man she knew as Sebastian, a meth user in his 50s, who would get her a bike. Later, Chute checked Tina into the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel in downtown Winnipeg. Tina mentioned that she wanted to meet friends at a shopping centre known as a venue for drug sales and child exploitation. Chute advised Tina not to go out again, and left her at the hotel where Ngozi Ikeh, the respite officer, met her. Despite being entrusted into the care of two Child Services officers, Tina was able to leave the hotel that evening. Shortly after she missed her curfew, she was reported missing

Although details of a report into Child Services’ actions in relation to Tina have not been made public, they clearly failed her and her family.

 

Finding Tina Fontaine

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Tina Fontaine’s body was found in the Red River only by accident when police divers went searching for a man seen struggling in the water eight days after Tina’s disappearance.

She was not the first child to be found there. Eleven years prior, Felicia Solomon-Osborne’s arm and leg were found in the Red River, close to where Tina’s body was later discovered. Her mother stated that it took more than a week for police to finally interview her and two months for police to publicly declare Felicia ‘missing’. To date, no one has been held accountable for her murder. She was aged 16.

In December 2015, more than twenty months after Tina’s body was found, police arrested a 56 year-old white man, Raymond Cormier, also known by the name Sebastian, for Tina’s murder.

Cormier was linked to Tina by various eye witnesses before her death. Multiple witnesses also gave evidence that the duvet cover in which Tina’s body was wrapped matched one that Cormier owned. He had also allegedly talked about having sex with her.

Cormier stood trial for murder in the second degree, but was acquitted by a jury in February 2018. Following the decision, which devastated Tina’s family and the community, the Crown announced that it would not appeal. Tina’s relatives fear that she will become another cold case

Dying without justice: the investigation


‘With this verdict we see yet another young First Nations woman failed by the child welfare system, failed by the police, and now failed by the courts. We stand with Tina Fontaine’s family and friends as they seek justice and healing. First Nations demand immediate changes to a system that allows our young people to die without justice. This verdict is a severe setback for justice and reconciliation in this country. Reconciliation cannot be simply about words – it has to be about action, about valuing the lives of Indigenous people, and keeping Indigenous women and girls safe.’

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde


The police investigation into the murder of Tina Fontaine relied on a controversial RCMP technique known as ‘Mr. Big’. This involves undercover police officers posing as members of a criminal syndicate in order to gain the trust of the suspect and obtain a confession.

The prosecution’s case relied heavily on Cormier’s own words recorded on undercover tapes obtained using the Mr Big method. The defence case, which led no evidence of its own, maintained that without DNA evidence and a clear cause of death, there were too many holes in the Crown case.

Commenting on the not guilty verdict for Cormier, and the devastating impact on the family who were left without answers, legal academic Kate Puddister wrote: ‘Victims and their families deserve a thorough and forthright investigation by police. It is not in the interest of victims to have evidence gathered through a Mr. Big investigation that will likely be viewed as suspect at best — or excluded from the trial, at worst.’

Others note that juries tend to convict in cases where recordings of an accused’s admissions of guilt exist. In the case of Tina Fontaine, they chose not to do so. David Milward, Professor or Law at the University of Manitoba asks: ‘What if juries continue to acquit those accused of murdering Indigenous victims in circumstances that would otherwise bring convictions?’

 

 

 

Community Resistance


‘Tina’s experiences of family fracturing, domestic violence, exploitation, addiction, loss, grief, resilience, determination, hope, and searching for belonging, must not be viewed in a vacuum. Tina’s life, in many ways, echoed experiences lived by others, including her parents and the many members of her extended family, some whom she knew, others whom she did not. This context is important because only when we come to a universal acceptance and understanding of the realities of historical and current discrimination, injustices, systemic racism, and that not all people are allowed access to opportunities on equal measure, will we ever have a hope to correct historical, long-standing, and ongoing injustice.’ 

Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Volume 1a,   2019,  560


Tina Fontaine’s death galvanised First Nations people. On August 20th 2014, more than 1000 people took to the streets for a vigil on the banks of the Red River. The Drag the Red and Bear Clan Patrol movements were formed,  spurring further action.

Tina’s death has been described as a catalyst for change that re-ignited calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The Inquiry was announced by the government on December 8, 2015, and officially launched in August 2016. It presented its final report, Reclaiming Power and Place, in June 2019.

 

 

‘What the Canadian judicial system cannot take from Tina Fontaine. She is a hummingbird in motion, her wings emerald green. She is floating, our baby sister, from ancestor to ancestor. She is drinking in stories. She is drinking in laughter. She is feasting with the Old Ones. She is feasting with her father, and she is well loved. She is well loved, our baby.’

Gregory Scofield, Metis poet, from #Justice for Tina Round Dance

 

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Portrait of Tina Fontaine, Bayview Primary, Glenfield, New Zealand, 2018. Artist: Emily Gardner.

The Street

‘Open Season’: Killed in plain sight

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Tanya Tagaq, Inuit throat singer, performing a work titled Qiksaaktuq: an improvised lament for the murdered and missing Indigenous Canadian women.

In Australia, 19% of homicides of Indigenous people occur in public or open spaces, as compared with only 7% of homicides involving non-Indigenous people (AIC).

Kwementyaye Green was a 25 year old mother of two who was found dead in a vacant lot in Tennant Creek in Northern Australia with her partner lying next to her. The police initially pursued the theory that she stabbed herself in the leg. During the coronial inquest into her death it became apparent that the police failed to secure the scene, destroyed crucial forensic evidence and demonstrated ‘lack of urgency, intent and competence’ during their investigation. To date, no one has been charged for her death.

Ms Chapman was only 23 when she was stomped to death by her partner in a shopping centre car park in Broome, Western Australia. Despite previous convictions against her partner for assaulting and wounding her, there were no protections put in place to keep her safe.

Roselle Nelson was only 16 when she died following a violent assault in the town of Katherine in the Northern Territory, possibly by her former boyfriend. It remains unclear as to whether anyone has been charged for her death.

Open Findings: mishandled investigations

A protesting crowd stands in the middle of an intersection. They carry a banner that reads 'No Justice on Stolen land' and a placard that says 'Australia is a crime scene'. There are Aboriginal flags painted on the banner and on the shirt of one of the men carrying it.

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Justice for Elijah – Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, Narrm (Melbourne), 2017. Photo: Charandev Singh.


‘I think it’s a thing of ‘blacks in the back, forget about them … It feels like it’s just a bloody kangaroo court. The files are missing and they expect people to remember what they said 20 years ago or whatever.’

Stephen Baamba Albert, Petronella Albert’s cousin


Petronella Albert was 22 years old when she disappeared from Broome, Western Australia. She was described as well liked and known in the community and very friend- and family-oriented. 18 years after her disappearance a coroner established that there was no doubt she came to an ‘untimely death,’ but delivered an open finding as to the manner and cause of her death. Some circumstantial evidence suggested that a man named Geoffrey Nicholls could have been implicated in her death, however he was shot dead by police in 2001 so further investigations were not pursued. During the inquest it came to light that the original case files concerning Petronrella Albert’s disappearance had been ‘destroyed or lost‘ by Broome police and that her missing persons file was closed nine months after her disappearance.

 

Sister Where Did You Go?

A single red, heart shaped balloon floats up into the bright blue sky.


‘Depending on who you are, you have a drastically different experience of the city …. So if you’re a Native woman you’re at risk for all this violence and probably have experienced some form of violence that the rest of the city is completely unaware of.’ 

Annita Lucchesi, Southern Cheyenne cartographer


In the United States, where nearly three quarters of the American Indian and Alaskan Native population live in urban areas as a result of forced removal and relocation policies, the disappearance of Indigenous women from the streets is described as an ‘epidemic’ of unknown proportions. According to a report by the Urban Indian Health Institute, across 71 cities the causes of death for 506 cases of missing and murdered Native women (a vast underestimate of the total numbers) were shown to be caused by domestic violence, sexual assault, police brutality or a lack of safety for sex workers. At the core of the violence, according to campaigners, are ‘institutional and structural racism, gaps in law enforcement response and prosecution’.

Indigenous women are also going missing in rural areas like Big Horn County in Montana, which contains the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations and has the highest rate of missing and murdered Native Americans in the State, and among the highest nationwide. Here at least 28 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing in recent memory, including 16-year-old Selena Not Afraid and 18-year-old Kaysera Stops Pretty Places.

US: Targeted on the Streets

‘What we do know is women and girls are disappearing without warning. What we do know is Native women face murder rates that are 10 times higher than the national average. What we do know is that families are left without answers. What we do know is there is a lot we do not know.’

Congresswoman Debra Haaland 

You don’t forget the face of someone who you thought was going to kill you.’ In 2017, a 25-year-old Indigenous woman was picked up by a non-Indigenous man, choked to unconsciousness and sexually assaulted in Eagle River, Alaska. Due to its narrow definition under Alaska law, he was not charged with sexual assault and pled guilty to a single charge of second-degree assault. Following the trial he received a suspended sentence and walked free. There have been several more cases of Indigenous women being abducted and assaulted. Some, like Mysti Babineau and Edith Chavez, have managed to escape and survive while numerous others remain missing.

Between 2005-2009, three transgender Native people, Ryan Shey Hoskie, Fredrick Watson and Teri Benally, aged 23, 32, and 42, were found beaten to death in Albuquerque. The circumstances surrounding their deaths remain a mystery.

Australia and Canada: targeted on the Streets

A group of women gather along a street, on a cold, snowy night. It is so cold you can see their breaths. At this vigil, they carry candles and traditional drums. Click here

Video still ‘Thunder Bay community remembers Barbara Kentner on anniversary of attack’, 2018. Source: Willow Fiddler for APTN News.

In November 1983, 29 year-old Gloria Pindan was brutally murdered on Mitchell Street, the main stretch of Darwin in Northern Australia. Her body was found in a flower bed close to the Lameroo Lodge. Her underwear was torn and her body had been stabbed and violently mutilated by Andy Albury. Court records indicate he referred to Ms Pindan as a ‘gin’. Albury had served in the army for a brief period and made comments indicating that he believed in the ideals of the Ku Klux Klan. There is little information on the public record about Ms Pindan with media coverage solely focusing on her killer.

In January 2017, Barbara Kentner a 34 year-old mother and member of the Waabigon Saaga’igan Anishinaabeg (Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation), was walking with her sister down McKenzie Street in Thunder Bay when she was struck in the stomach by a trailer hitch. Witnesses stated that when she was hit, the assailant travelling in the car exclaimed ‘I got one’. After battling to recover from the unprovoked assault for 6 months in and out of hospital, she died in July 2017.

Helen Betty Osborne: Hunted


‘Betty, if I start to write a poem about you

it might turn out to be
about hunting season instead,
about ‘open season’ on native women
it might turn out to be
about your face       young and hopeful
staring back at me      hollow now
from a black and white page
it might be about the ‘townsfolk’    (gentle word)
townsfolk who ‘believed native girls were easy’
and ‘less likely to complain if a sexual proposition led to violence.’

Marilyn Dumont, extract from ‘Helen Betty Osborne’ 


Helen Betty Osborne, a 19 year old Cree woman, left her community to pursue her education at the Guy Hill Residential School in Manitoba, with the dream of becoming a teacher and helping her people (Amnesty, 2004). Just two years after doing so, she was abducted and brutally murdered while walking home early one morning in 1971. Four young white men forced her into their car. They subsequently brought her to a cabin and then a pump house where she was beaten, stripped, sexually assaulted and stabbed with a screwdriver more than 50 times. They dragged her into the bushes and left her there where she was discovered the following morning.

At the time, the practice of ‘white youths cruising the town, attempting to pick up Aboriginal girls for drinking parties and for sex’ in The Pas was common, however the RCMP failed to intervene to protect the women and girls who were being targeted.

It took more than 16 years for any of the men to face charges for Helen Betty Osborne’s murder. Those charged were Dwayne Archie Johnston, James Robert Paul Houghton and Lee Scott Colgan. Colgan was granted immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony, Johnston was found guilty of the murder of Betty Osborne and sentenced to life imprisonment however Houghton was acquitted.

The Manitoba Justice Inquiry concluded that Helen Betty Osborne’s murder was fueled by racism and sexism, stating ‘It is clear that Betty Osborne would not have been killed if she had not been Aboriginal.’

Ground zero for violence against Indigenous women

The cover of the report 'Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside'. Pictured on this cover is the profile of a woman's face constructed out of tree branches and flowers, three black crow silhouettes fly over her.

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Cover art:  ‘Long Live our Mother’, Jess X Snow. Report: Martin, Carol and Walia, Harsha, Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside,” Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, 2019.

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is a site notorious for high levels of poverty, addiction, overdoses and violence including the deaths and abductions of Indigenous women off the streets. Since the first Women’s Memorial March in 1992, more than 970 names have been added to a list of women who have gone missing or been murdered in the Downtown Eastside.

In her performance Vigil, Anishinaabekwe artist Rebecca Belmore, commemorates the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women who have disappeared from the streets of Vancouver. In this performance, which takes place on a street corner in the Downtown Eastside, she yells out names of women who have disappeared from the area.

The ‘Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside‘ report compiled by the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, explores how ‘individual experiences of violence are inseparable from state violence, including loss of land, forced poverty, homelessness, child apprehension, criminalization within the justice system, and health disparities’. It acknowledges that Indigenous women in the Downtown Eastside are stigmatised as having ‘high-risk lifestyles’ and blamed for the violence perpetrated against them while colonial poverty and patriarchy are in reality the highest risk factors in their lives. In this report, contributors speak of their experiences of feeling targeted and stigmatised, of police brutality, of being trapped in circumstances of poverty and extreme violence and of losing friends.

 

 

The Vulnerability of Indigenous Trans Women: Alloura Wells

At a Trans March two people hold up placards. One reads 'Justice for Alloura' with a photo of Alloura at the bottom right and love hearts drawn around her name.

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March participants draw attention to systemic bias in the police force and the cases of missing and murdered trans people, Trans March, 2018. Photo: Samuel Engelking.


‘I remember her sense of style, her laugh. She was a great singer. She was very approachable. She was just a great soul that died too young…She had a lot [of] ambition, things that she wanted to do in the future and it’s sad that she left so early.’

Monica Forrester, LGBT advocate


Alloura Wells was a 27 year old transgender woman who went missing from downtown Toronto in mid 2017. As a Black, Indigenous trans-woman, who was experiencing homelessness at the time of her death, and who had a history of criminalisation and addiction, she occupied a lethal intersection. When her father reported her disappearance he was told that because of her itinerant history, she wasn’t a high priority. In December 2017 her body was found in Rosedale Ravine Lands Park. It remains unclear how she died.

Streets alive with violence: Nice Coloured Girls

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‘Nice Coloured Girls’, 1987. Video: Tracey Moffatt.

In Tracey Moffat’s Nice Coloured Girls three young Aboriginal girls walk the streets of a city that is and is not Kings Cross, the centre of the Sydney sex trade. The time is and is not the present. Aretha Franklin’s ‘Nasty Girl’ forms the part of the soundtrack together with the soundscape of a precolonial past.  Waves lap on a beach, transporting us to the beach of invasion. A voiceover presents sanctimonious extracts from early sailors’ diaries. The ‘captains’ bemoan the brutal treatment of Aboriginal women by Aboriginal men, while themselves luring the ‘lubras’ with food and commodities.  In the present, the young  women conspire to rob and deceive contemporary ‘captains’ merrily making away with their money.

In the brief space of the film, the young women do not ‘reclaim’ the city, but walk, knowingly, defiantly, through streets that are alive with the violence of the past as well as the present.

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Chantal Chagnon, right and Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes lead the Eighth Annual Valentine’s Day Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women down 17 Ave. S.W. on Sunday. (Mike Drew/Postmedia)

 

The Beach

Lynette Daley

Lynette Daley was a  33 year old mother of seven. On Invasion Day in 2011 she was subjected to a prolonged and violent sexual assault. Her naked and bloodied body was found the following morning on the Ten Mile Beach near Iluka, NSW. For years the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) declined to prosecute the men responsible for her death. It was not until national and international campaigns were initiated by the family and by leading Aboriginal women that her attackers were finally charged. 

‘Lynette was battered, bruised and ultimately destroyed by men’s violence. It was ended by the most obscene disregard for her humanity. The system did not protect her and justice has not been done.’

Antoinette BraybrookCEO of Djirra

A target of male violence

A map showing the location (Ten Mile Beach in NSW) where Lynette Daley's naked and bloodied body was found. This was 5.5km south of the Black Rocks Campground and about 15km north of Iluka.

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Lynette Daley’s naked and bloodied body was found on the beach 5.5km south of the Black Rocks Campground and about 15km north of Iluka. She no longer had a pulse by the time the two men responsible for her death called for help. They burned the blood-soaked mattress she had been laying on, along with her bra and some other items a couple of hours before paramedics and police were called and arrived at the site.

Lynette Daley’s family remember her as beautiful, loving and kind-hearted and recall how she had been a strong and competitive child. They observed a change in her teenage years when she became a target of male violence. Lynette had survived relationships, including with the fathers of her children, in which she was the target of multiple forms of violence, abuse and control. Her mother, Thelma, and stepfather, Gordon, recall how Lynette sought assistance from the police on a few occasions; however they rarely intervened.  One of her Aunties remembers Lynette staying with her on multiple occasions while seeking shelter from domestic violence. Because of concerns for the safety of Lynette’s children, Thelma, Gordon and Lynette’s sister Joanne took them into their care.

Lynette Daley’s life was taken from her on an isolated beach by two white men on Invasion Day – a day deeply significant to the history of sexual violence against Aboriginal women in Australia. She suffered an extremely violent and horrifying death after years of trying to escape male violence.

Lameroo Beach: Sarah Johnson

A map showing the location of Lameroo Beach relative to Darwin's main stretch on Mitchell Street.

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Sarah Johnson’s body was found at Lameroo Beach, just minutes away from Darwin’s main streets and city centre. 

In Australia, almost a decade before Lynette Daley’s violent death, another Aboriginal woman – Sarah Johnson – was left to die on a beach in the Northern Territory. On New Year’s Day 2002, the naked body of this mother of five was found in the sand at Lameroo Beach in Darwin.

There is evidence that David Dixon was with her at the beach the night before. Ms Johnson had three children with David Dixon, her violent ex-partner.  Two children from a previous relationship lived with her father in Bagot Community.   

After being in a defacto relationship with Dixon for 10 years, Sarah Johnson ended their relationship in early 2001 after he stabbed her multiple times, an assault for which he was convicted and imprisoned. A Domestic Violence Order (DVO) was in effect at the time of her death,  but it failed to keep her safe. She stated in an affidavit in support of a restraining order that she had attempted to leave Dixon on multiple occasions but each time he found her and forced her to return. She described violent assaults and physical and emotional abuse perpetrated against her and expressed her concern for her safety and the safety of her children.  

In the first instance, after the police submitted their file to the DPP, the DPP declined to prosecute and David Dixon was released from custody.  

‘Boys will be boys’: white male entitlement and the bodies of Aboriginal women

A photo of a sole footprint in wet sand at the water's edge on a beach.

Lynette Daley was objectified by the men responsible for her death. She was regarded as a disposable thing  that they were entitled to use for their own sexual gratification. They believed that they could do whatever they liked to her regardless of whether she could or would consent. This is first evidenced in their conduct towards Lynette, observed by witnesses at the supermarket in Iluka, and in their description of the events that followed, including the brutal rape and killing that they perpetrated.

Following the discovery of Lynette’s body, when asked by paramedics, one of the killers, Adrian Attwater, characterised his rape of Lynette as ‘wild sex’. He also said that what happened ‘wasn’t anything unusual’. However, a Coroner determined that Lynette’s blood alcohol content indicated that she couldn’t ‘have had the capacity to meaningfully consent’ and that ‘Mr Attwater was not entitled to interpret her lack of resisting as consent’.

The term ‘wild sex’ was used in numerous media articles in the aftermath of Lynette’s death, some of which were found to breach Press Council standards because the quote was not attributed to Attwater and therefore provided an inaccurate and misleading representation of what happened. As in many other instances, inaccurate and unethical media reporting reinforced stereotypes about the sexual availability of Aboriginal women.

 

 

‘While the settler state distorts the rape of black women and silences women’s accounts of harm, Indigenous women have not been silent. Black women know the Australian state was built on such violence and that the instruments of law, the police and courts, can never really be trusted to protect black women’s bodies. We know that the Australian legal system’s tolerance of sexual violence towards Indigenous women is deeply seated in Australian history.’

Dr Hannah McGlade

A system that refuses to seek justice for Aboriginal women


‘She was just a statistic with the DPP and with them. You know, it was just another Indigenous girl, we’ll sweep it under the carpet. You know, they’re a dime a dozen, this happens all the time, we’ll let it go … I was wondering, if it would’ve been two Aboriginal boys had done that to a white girl, I reckon they’d be still in jail.’

Gordon Davis, Lynette Daley’s Stepfather


‘Is our legal system tolerating and even encouraging the femicide of Indigenous women?’

Professor Marcia Langton


Repeated obstruction by the legal system

Adrian Attwater and Paul Maris were the sole suspects for Lynette Daley’s killing and were initially charged in 2011.

However,  in 2012 the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) declined to prosecute then.

Following a 2014 Coronial Inquest held into the death of Lynette Daley (Norma), Coroner Michael Barnes concluded there ‘can be no doubt the injury which led to Norma’s death was inflicted by Mr Attwater’, and again referred the case to the DPP.

Despite this referral, the DPP once more declined to prosecute.

Eventually, following an expose on the TV program 4 Corners, titled  Callous Disregard, which highlighted the facts of Lynette Daley’s death, and domestic and international exposure by Indigenous women,  the DPP reviewed their decision not to prosecute and charged the two men the following month.

 

‘We have had to suffer without a mother, it’s been pretty rough for all of us kids.

We all have so many things we want to tell her, but we don’t have the opportunity to tell her that.

These men have taken away the greatest thing any child could have in their lives.

I hope one day they look back and reflect on all the wrong they have done.’

Statement from Lynette Daley’s 7 children

 

Legal Degradations: Lynette Daley and Cindy Gladue


‘Cindy Gladue was a mother. Cindy Gladue was a daughter. Cindy Gladue was a Cree woman. Cindy Gladue was a human being regardless of her profession as a sex worker. Using her vagina as evidence dehumanizes her. Privacy interests do not end at death and there is nothing more private than the intimate body parts of a woman.’

Christa Big Canoe,  Cindy Gladue suffered her last indignity at murder trial


‘With more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women, there is compelling reason to focus on the violence Barton inflicted on Gladue, understanding it as a part of a history of the sexual brutalization and attempted annihilation of Indigenous women.’ 

Sherene Razack, ‘Gendering Disposability’ 2015


Lynette Daley’s violent death is mirrored by that of Cindy Gladue in Edmonton, Canada. Both Indigenous women bled to death after violent sexual assaults perpetrated by white men. The perpetrators in both cases characterised these assaults as ‘rough sex’ despite both women being unable to provide consent at the time. Cindy Gladue, like Lynette Daley was objectified and dehumanised in news reports and subsequently by the criminal injustice system.

During the 2015 trial of Bradley Burton for Cindy Gladue’s murder, which was littered with references to Cindy as ‘a native’ and ‘a prostitute’, she was subject to the gross indignity of her dissected vaginal tissue being used as evidence in the courtroom. As lawyer, Christa Big Canoe wrote, ‘Cindy died four years ago. Her body is not whole in its resting place. In any other context this could be seen as desecration of her remains, but in this judicial process it is called preservation of evidence. It is simply horrific. It appears that the court did not contemplate Cindy’s dignity, death rites, or any indigenous perspective on caring for the dead.’

At the end of the trial Burton was acquitted. The Crown appealed the decision and the Supreme Court in May 2019 decided it would ‘allow the appeal in part and order a new trial on unlawful act manslaughter.’ Lawyers and advocates have articulated concerns over how her family will cope with another trial that offers no guarantees.

Degradations: the media


‘But when the media reported the case, all they talked about was how Yvette had a drinking problem and a history of drug use, that her house was messy and that her kids lived in squalor.

They reported this as if squalor and drug abuse is what killed this woman rather than a man making a decision to kill her. The reports made it seem she was responsible for her own death.’

Celeste Liddle on the case of Adeline Yvette Wilson-Rigney

‘The media has been referring to her death as the result of a sex act or a threesome gone wrong, but how can someone obtain so many traumatic injuries to her body that she ends up dead through such an act.’

Celeste Liddle on the case of Lynette Daley, ‘The fight for justice for Aboriginal women’, 2017


Media headlines represented Lynette Daley as a ‘drunk’ and as a bad mother who was sexually deviant and therefore in part responsible for what happened to her. A narrative was constructed of Lynette falling into the wrong crowd during her teens, starting to take drugs, drinking alcohol and spiraling out of control. There was little or no acknowledgement of the role that male violence played in the struggles that she faced. Her intoxication was not only referenced by Adrian Attwater and Paul Maris as the reason for their initial triple zero call – a misrepresentation of their own roles in her death – but it was referenced by journalists as a means of victim-blaming. The narrative of Lynette Daley as drunken and deviant detracted from the fact that two men exploited her vulnerability and raped her, with fatal consequences.

 

Guilty!

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Community members at a protest for violence against Indigenous women in the Clarence Valley. Photo: Deb Novak.

Finally in September 2017,  following a 7 week trial, a jury of 11 people took just 32 minutes to reach the verdict that both men were guilty on all counts. It had taken the justice system six and a half years to get to this point.

Adrian Attwater was found guilty of manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault and received a nineteen year sentence with a non-parole period of fourteen years and three months. Paul Maris was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault and hindering the police investigation and was sentenced to nine years with a non-parole period of six years and nine months. Justice Elizabeth Fullerton noted  that Attwater’s ‘attitude towards Ms Daley at the time of his offending was one of callous indifference’.

‘It has taken seven years of struggle, heartaches, stress and lots of emotion to finally get to the stage where we heard the words guilty.’

Thelma Davis (Mother) 

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Community members at a protest for violence against Indigenous women in the Clarence Valley. Photo: Deb Novak.

The Home

 

‘For me, this place is the power of Black women speaking their truth as survivors of sexual assault, violence and abuse. It is all of the stories of Black women never being taken seriously. It is the #MeToo movement not hearing all the times that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women did not speak out, for fear of further stereotyping our men. It is Indigenous women not wanting to report sexual harassment, assault, violence and abuse so as to protect their community from being attacked by racists. It is Aboriginal women still speaking out against Aboriginal male perpetrators, despite all the complexity in doing so. It is us still speaking out, despite being disparaged, harmed and dismissed by white police and authorities.

Sometimes, this place is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women standing beside their men, not as victims, but with the understanding that the legacies of trauma and dysfunction impact us all. It is Indigenous women prioritising collective community over individual rights. It is that space that so many Aboriginal women occupy, a space that exists between reporting, not reporting and carrying out our own forms of justice.’

Eugenia Flynn, extract from ‘This Place’ featured in #MeToo: Stories from the Australian Movement 

Domestic Femicide

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Screenshot, Indigenous victims of domestic violence, 2015. Video: The Feed SBS.

Women homicide victims are generally more likely to die in domestic homicide incidents compared to men. Between 70-90% of Indigenous women in Australia who were killed by another person were killed by an intimate partner or family member in all but one year between 2009-10 and 2013-14. While non-Indigenous women also experience high rates of domestic homicide (60-72% over the same period), Indigenous women are at greater risk of hospitalisation or death due to family violence.

In Canada, Indigenous women are as likely to be killed by an acquaintance or stranger as they are by an intimate partner, which is not the case for non-Indigenous women. The rates of spousal assault against Indigenous women, however, are more than three times higher than non-Indigenous women. Like in Australia, Indigenous women are more likely to require medical treatment as a result of being assaulted (NWAC.)

‘Our own form of justice’: Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group

A group of women walk down the road in the centre of a small town. The women at the front carry a banner that reads 'Town Camp Women Say Stop the Violence'. Buildings and trees line the street in the background.

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Screenshot, 2018 Women’s Video for Canberra, 2018. Video: Tangentyere Family Violence Prevention Program.


‘We are the experts of Town Camp history, relationships, knowledge and experience, best and worst practice. We are the influencers in our community and the broader Alice Springs community in the area of family safety. Our lived experience of family and domestic violence on Town Camps informs the knowledge we share.’ 

Shirleen CampbellWarlpiri and Arrernte woman and co-ordinator of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group


Aboriginal women, many of whom are themselves survivors of violence, are doing important work in their communities to address family and domestic violence. In Alice Springs, for example, women living in the town camps set up the Tangentyere  Women’s Family Safety Group. The group, predominantly made up of volunteers, is well placed to understand and address the needs of their own communities. They provide early intervention training and advocacy support. However, as a grassroots organisation they continue to struggle to secure long-term funding and support.

‘Our own forms of justice’: the Djinders

'The Djinders' is written in bold, white capital letters across the centre of the screen. The text is overlaid on a background of trees in the bush.

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Screenshot, The Djinders: Family Violence in Grafton, 2017. Video: SBS The Feed.


‘No-one was charged over my great grandmother’s death, and my mum is a very strong woman but she grew up in an era when women didn’t have a voice…For a lot of our women, that cycle just continues to grow, but I’m breaking that cycle…I’ve got a daughter and I don’t want that for her.’

Rachael Cavanagh, Yugambeh woman


The Djinders (which translates to ‘sisters’ in Gumbaynggirr language) are a group of Aboriginal women in Grafton, NSW, who are predominantly survivors of domestic and family violence and intergenerational trauma. The group formed after several women attended the NSW Aboriginal Women’s Summit,  ‘Women Against Violence – Healing on Country’ which was organised in response to the story of Toni Wright, an Aboriginal woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of domestic violence. Their work is self-determining and centred on empowering Aboriginal women and children to seek community based solutions to community identified problems.

Community Holistic Circle Healing


‘The legal system’s use of incarceration under the guise of specific and general deterrence also seems, to us, to be ineffective in breaking the cycle of violence…What the threat of incarceration does do is keep people from coming forward and taking responsibility for the hurt they are causing. It reinforces the silence, and therefore promotes, rather than breaks, the cycle of violence that exists. In reality, rather than making the community a safer place, the threat of jail places the community more at risk.’

Community Holistic Circle Healing Program – Hollow Water First Nation Position on incarceration



There is an ‘urgent need for adequately resourced and the improved development of programs and treatment services that are designed, implemented and delivered by Aboriginal people, specifically for Aboriginal offenders.  Indeed, another principle for effective intervention highlighted in the “what works” literature, is that programmatic interventions that are delivered in community settings (ie, community-based) are more effective than those delivered in custodial settings.’

Hannah McGlade and Vickie Hovane,  The Mangolamara Case: Improving Aboriginal Community Safety and Healing


The Community Holistic Circle Healing process involves 13 steps, developed for dealing with perpetrators of sexual abuse, and is another example of how communities are leading the way while governments lag behind. It centres on community accountability, responsibility and healing. While it is considered by some to be an imperfect model, there appear to be lessons that can be learned and principles that can be further explored and developed in order to develop a response that affords victims justice and prevents further harm.

Known deaths of Indigenous women in their homes

We acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive record of all missing or murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2-spirit people. We have attempted to pull together information available in the public domain, but understand that this cannot encompass unreported or under-reported deaths and disappearances.

– 2003: Kristy Williams (22 years), Erambie Aboriginal Mission, Cowra NSW [Australia]

– 2003: Anne Chantell Millar (22 years), Fifteen Mile Camp, Darwin NT [Australia]

– 2004: Carlene Coombe, Coconut Grove, Darwin NT [Australia]

– 2005: Jodie Palipuaminni (27 years), Araru Outstation Coburg Peninsula [Australia]

– 2007: Janie Norman (32 years), Little Sisters Town Camp, Alice Springs NT [Australia]

– 2007: Stacey Thorne (35 years), Boddington WA [Australia]

– 2009: Andrea Pickett (39 years), North Beach WA [Australia]

– 2010: Shionah Violet Teneille Carter (26 years), Beechboro, Perth WA [Australia]

– 2010: Amanda Kay Sauney (25 years), Andergrove QLD [Australia]

– 2011: DM (35 years), Oakley QLD [Australia]

– 2012: Felicity Cook (42 years), Waratah NSW [Australia]

– 2013: Elsie Robertson (39 years), Cairns QLD [Australia]

– 2014: Kwementyaye Murphy (36 years), Alice Springs NT [Australia]

– 2014: Raylene Lorna Little (38 years), Meekatharra WA [Australia]

– 2015: Kwementyaye McCormack (31 years), Alice Springs NT [Australia]

– 2015: Maleeta Hart (18 years), Brewarrina NSW [Australia]

– 2016: Unnamed woman (29 years), Bagot Community NT [Australia]

– 2016: Jody Websdale (42 years), Cooper Street, Midland WA [Australia]

– 2016: SW (26 years), Yalu Street, Pormpuraaw QLD [Australia] see non-inquest findings

– 2016: Adeline Rigney-Wilson (29 years), Hillier SA [Australia]

– 2016: 26 year old woman, Fox Street, Walgett NSW [Australia]

– 2016: Crystal Ratcliffe (38 years), Woree, Cairns QLD [Australia]

– 2017: Unnamed (35 years), Kowanyama QLD [Australia]

– 2017: Kwementyaye Foster, Tennant Creek NT [Australia]

– 2018: Margaret Indich (38 years), Cloverdale WA [Australia]

– 2018: Unnamed woman (62 years), Alice Springs Town Camp NT [Australia]

– 2018: Kumanjayi Ingrid Driver Enalanga (46 years), Albury NSW [Australia]

– 2018: Debbie Combarngo (37 years), Toowoomba QLD [Australia]

– 2018: Caris Marie Dann (30 years), Moora WA [Australia]

– 2019: Jessica Carter (29 years), Nollamara, Perth WA [Australia]

– 2019: Helena Broadbent (32 years), Keilor Downs, Melbourne VIC [Australia]

– 2019: Unnamed (35 years), Boulder Camp Site, Kalgoorlie WA [Australia]

– 2019: Kardell Lomas (31 years), Ipswitch, QLD [Australia]

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Karla Dickens, Bound (by Addiction, Beauty myths, Children, Land, Marriage, Money), 2015. Mixed media, Polyptych (6 parts), dimensions variable. Title of Exhibition: Black and Blue, Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane, 2016. Photographer: Mick Richards.

 

Andrea Pickett

Andrea Pickett was a Noongar woman and mother of thirteen from Perth who had taken out multiple Violence Restraining Orders against her estranged husband. After he was released from prison on parole, these orders and his parole conditions did nothing to deter him from finding Andrea and killing her, while she was seeking refuge at her cousin’s house. One of her young daughters was in the house and witnessed the killing. The WA Police left Andrea’s body in the searing heat of the Perth summer for 15 hours after her murder.

Andrea had repeatedly sought assistance from WA Police, the Department of Corrective Services and Crisis Care, including just days and hours before her murder. They failed to keep her safe. The case of Andrea Pickett marks a rallying point for Noongar women’s activism against violence in Perth, as well as nationally and internationally.

A loving Mother and Grandmother

A framed photo of Andrea Pickett. In this photo she looks towards the camera. She's wearing a white blouse over a coral coloured singlet, with earrings and a necklace. She appears to be standing under a patio with a fence visible in the background that is decorated with Christmas lights and tinsel.

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Framed photo of Andrea. Photo: Charandev Singh.


‘She was a dedicated mum. Loved her little people. She was a really good person, she had a big heart. Do anything for anyone.’

Dianne Simmons, Andrea’s Cousin


Andrea Pickett was described by her older sister, Kelly Bentley, as a very good-hearted person who loved her family, her thirteen kids and her grandchildren, whom she affectionately referred to as ‘the little people’. At the end of the Inquest into her death, her brother, Gary Bentley, emphasised how large Andrea’s heart was and how she would always be the first to worry about everyone else. He remembered how they would talk on the phone for hours, her sense of humour and ability to make people laugh. She was described as a strong and resilient woman who touched the hearts of all with whom she came into contact.

 

 

A Noongar Woman at Risk

Infographic highlighting the experience and risk of different groups of women. It reads 'Groups at greater risk of family, domestic and sexual violence: Indigenous women, young women, pregnant women, women separating from their partners, women with disability, women experiencing financial hardship' To the right of this a statistic is shown that '54% of women who had experiencing current partner violence experienced more than one violent incident'. It then shows a graphic of a woman carrying a suitcase with the text 'Women who are about to, or who have recently ended a relationship are at greater risk of experiencing violence'.

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‘She was killed in an horrific way on the police’s watch and on the West Australian Government’s watch.’

Gary Bentley, Andrea Pickett’s brother 


‘Andrea’s life was clearly at risk and yet the non-Aboriginal agencies tasked with protecting victims did so little to help her. As an Aboriginal woman, her life was not valued. Many Aboriginal women and girls have died as a result of family violence because the justice system imposed on our people is tainted with racism and sexism.’

Hannah McGlade


As a Noongar woman, Andrea was very much at risk of family violence and homicide. Aboriginal women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of family violence and Aboriginal mothers are 17.5 times more like to be a victim of homicide than non-Aboriginal mothers.

Despite the over-representation of Aboriginal women in family violence statistics, at the time of Andrea’s murder in WA there was no specialist family and domestic violence service for Aboriginal women even though Aboriginal women had campaigned since the 1990s for an Aboriginal women’s legal service to support Aboriginal women experiencing violence.

At the time of Andrea’s murder, Aboriginal women were deprived of any access to culturally safe legal support services. Aboriginal Legal Services were charged with primarily representing male perpetrators and persons at risk of incarceration, and women experiencing family violence were not able to access the service.

Andrea made many efforts to seek help and protect her children and herself, but was told there were no facilities for her to go into crisis care with her seven youngest children. Unable to leave her children behind, she remained at risk. Despite her persistent efforts to keep herself and her children safe, assistance was not forthcoming.

 

 

Escalating Violence

A large crown of people are march down the street. Two people hold placards at the front of the march, one says 'Speak Out Domestic Violence Kills' and the other reads 'In loving memory'. To the left and just behind these placards is an Aboriginal flag being carried down the street.

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Photo: Women’s Council of WA.

During her marriage Andrea had been subjected to repeated and serious threats and acts of violence and intimidation. After a very violent assault on her involving strangulation, she decided to end the relationship and took out a VRO (Violence Restraining Order) against Kenneth. Andrea was concerned that he was ‘not right in the head’. In February 2008, after several reports of his breach of a VRO,  Kenneth Pickett was found in the vicinity of her house with a large knife. He was remanded into custody and had his first sentencing hearing in August where the  judge noted, ‘Well, he’s saying, “I’m still a risk.” I’m not letting him out. I mean if he kills her it will be my fault. It’s just that simple’. (Hope, 2012, 15) The court was adjourned and the following month the same judge sentenced him to 14 months imprisonment, which made him immediately eligible for parole.

During his imprisonment Kenneth Pickett was not offered any psychiatric intervention nor was he required to undertake any counselling or culturally appropriate program to address his violent offending towards Andrea. Prisons lacked cultural engagement with Aboriginal elders notwithstanding that the prison population was significantly Aboriginal.

‘I’m scared he will kill me and I am also scared he will kill my children.

Knowing he’ll be out, I will have to go and hide with my kids, ‘cos I don’t feel safe even with a Violence Restraining Order.’

Andrea Pickett, Victim Impact Statement

A gross failure of protection

A map shows the spatial relationship between Andrea's home in Brookedale which is south of the Swan river that divides the Perth region and her relatives' houses in Mirrabooka and in North Beach, which are both north of the river. It also shows the proximity of police stations to these addresses. The Armadale police station appears to be a very short drive to Andrea's home. Likewise, both the Ballajura and Mirrabooka police stations that she attended are very close to her relative's house and not too far from her cousin's house in North Beach where she was murdered. It notes that the address that Kenneth Pickett was supposed to reside at was a 4 hour drive away.

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When Mr Pickett was released on parole, Andrea no longer felt safe in her Brookdale home. While his parole conditions stipulated that he must reside in Narembeen and have no contact with Andrea, a point reinforced by an active VRO, soon after his release he breached those conditions. On various occasions Andrea reported this to the police. For periods of time she stayed with a relative in Mirrabooka, however he soon found her there. Eventually, in the absence of available Crisis Care accommodation, she went to North Beach to stay with her cousin. This is where Mr Pickett murdered her.

The murder of Andrea Pickett in circumstances in which her estranged husband made repeated threats to kill her and subsequently was able to do so represents a gross systemic failure and the unwillingness of authorities to provide her with protection. When Kenneth Pickett was seen by a psychologist in August 2008 and asked whether he was currently a threat to his wife, he replied ‘I don’t really know, I’m probably still a risk’. Despite this admission, he was released with no protective measures in place for Andrea. His acknowledgement of the ongoing risk he posed did not compel a response from any of the agencies involved. A condition of his parole was that he have no direct or indirect contact with Andrea, and live with his sister in Narembeen. However, his movements were not effectively monitored by his parole officer, and he continued to breach an active VRO.

 

Systemic failure to protect: ineffectiveness of VROs

A screenshot from the 4 Corners episode 'A Matter of Life and Death' shows a framed portrait photo of Andrea Pickett. She is smiling with her dark hair pulled back from her face. The framed photo sits on a desk in a domestic setting.

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Screenshot ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, 4 Corners, 2012).


‘To end the unacceptable impact of violence against Aboriginal women, like Lynette, Ms Dhu and Andrea Pickett and the many others we don’t hear about, we need all parties to back up words with investment in services for safety.’

Antoinette Braybrook (Kuku Yalanji), Convenor of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum


The 4 Corners episode, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ considers the violent deaths of Andrea Pickett and Saori Jones, two women who were targeted by men and failed by the systems that were meant to protect them. Andrea had made countless attempts to keep herself and her children safe, including applying for violence restraining orders (VROs).

The Family’s campaigning, the inquest finding, and the national media attention to Andrea’s murder also triggered a WA Ombudsman’s Investigation and the Law Reform Committee Investigation into Family Violence Law and Practice.

The Four Corners documentary became a training tool for Western Australia Police officers and detectives and officers in the Northern Territory.  It was also broadcast at the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women in 2003 and at other national conferences.

The Ombudsman’s report entitled, ‘Investigation into issues associated with violence restraining orders and their relationship with family and domestic violence fatalities‘ concluded that in 17 of 30 domestic violence fatalities over an 18 month period, a VRO was in force at the time of the fatality.

According to the research, the effectiveness of a VRO decreases as the risk to the person experiencing violence increases and in high risk cases, restraining orders are insufficient if used alone.

Lethal indifference of agencies towards Aboriginal women

A graphic combining a woman icon and the Aboriginal flag is project onto the old East Perth police lockup building facade. In the foreground a sign that reads 'Police' with the police logo and an arrow points towards the building.

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Projection onto old Perth Watchhouse. Photo: Michelle Bui.


‘Andrea did everything legally possible to protect herself and her family. And she was met with almost a wall of complete and lethal indifference.’

Charandev Singh (family advocate)



‘Andrea, when she was at the police station, she actually said to them that ‘what do I have to do before you do something? Does he have to kill me first?’

Gary Bentley, Andrea’s Brother 


Police repeatedly displayed callous disregard for Andrea’s pleas for help. On one occasion she reported to Armadale Police that Kenneth Pickett had left letters and a large machete in one of their children’s bedrooms in her home, which he had entered in violation of the VRO.  When Andrea and her cousin, who attended the police station with her, returned moments after handing in the evidence, they found the officers playing around with the machete. They were told that the office was closing and the police then asked her if she wanted the machete back – the weapon that was used to intimidate her.

Like the police, Crisis Care and the Department of  Child Protection too failed Andrea. On one occasion she was asked by Crisis Care whether she could split her family up by leaving four of her children with her sister and bringing  three others with her to a refuge. She was consistently determined, however to ensure that her family stayed together and not to be separated from her youngest seven children. Crisis Care told her that they could not accommodate her due to the number of children she had.  Crisis Care officers were aware of regional refuges near Perth that could have accommodated Andrea and her seven youngest children, but they failed to offer her these options (in their words – ‘because people didn’t usually take them up on the other options, they didn’t offer them‘); options that she would have unhesitatingly taken up and would have kept her alive and with her children.

The Inquest and the Aftermath

Half a dozen family members, including Andrea's Mother and siblings, can be seen gathered on the steps in front of a court building. The woman at the front in the foreground holds a framed photo of Andrea Pickett. Everyone in the photo is wearing black clothes and about half wear black sunglasses to cover their eyes.

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Andrea Pickett’s family gather outside the Perth Coroner’s Court, Boorloo (Perth), Whadjuk Noongar Boodja, 2012. Photo: Charandev Singh.

Andrea was killed by her estranged husband on 12 January 2009 at her cousin’s house, where she had sought refuge. It took more than three years of sustained lobbying by Andrea’s family and through the Victims of Crime Reference Group on behalf of the family, for an inquest to be held at the Perth Coroner’s Court in June 2012. The combined efforts of family and advocates resulted in the first systemic family violence inquest in Western Australian legal history. The seven-day inquest hearing was held at Perth Coroner’s court in June 2012. The Aboriginal Family Law Service (AFLS) and the Australian Human Rights Commission applied to be parties at the inquest, underlining its national importance.

Following the inquest, Coroner Hope made seven recommendations. They related to safety plans to protect victims of crime prior to the release of perpetrators on parole, the provision of crisis accommodation, reviewing risk assessments and monitoring procedures of parolees and better communication between community corrections and the police.


‘While the  inquest effected some systems wide changes, issues of racism and discrimination that Andrea experienced, in common with many Noongar women, were not addressed. I am concerned that positive gains made by Andrea’s inquest, one of the first family violence inquests in Australia, are not being remembered.’ 

Hannah McGlade


 

 

‘Yes, the system failed her’: Jody Gore

Native flowers and leaves are laid at a vigil on a concrete stage alongside candles in small glass jars.

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Remembering Jessica Bairnsfather-Scott, Boorloo (Perth), Whadjuk Noongar Boodja, 2019. Photo: Marziya Mohammedali.  32 year-old Jessica was found dead at her home by a sibling just hours after she sent her family a photo of a car crash scene. Neighbours reportedly heard screaming coming from her residence before she was found.

A telling counterpart to Andrea Pickett’s preventable death after the parole of her violent partner is the court’s treatment of Jody Gore, an Aboriginal woman from Kununurra in Western Australia, who was sentenced to 12 years after she killed her violent partner in self-defence. Despite repeated abuse by her partner, Gore attempted to protect him and continued to let him stay with her because he suffered from illness. Gore, whose body is described as ‘ridden with scars’ and  ‘a map’ of violent abuse inflicted over 20 years, was convicted in a trial that lasted less than three hours, and in which no expert witnesses were called to testify on her behalf. Although she suffers from serious health conditions, including the need for dialysis, which could have rendered her twelve-year term a death sentence, this did not deter the court, who found that she had acted in anger and not in self-defence.


‘Yes, the system failed her, mistreated and discriminated against her as an Indigenous woman subjected to severe violence for two decades … We need to ensure that there is reform so this doesn’t happen again to women in Jody’s situation.’

Hannah McGlade


Following a determined campaign by her family and supporters, Jody Gore was released after serving four years of the original twelve-year sentence, an implicit recognition by the court, legal academic Stella Tarrant notes, of its previous miscarriage of justice.

Resisting Systems of Violence, Resisting Carceral Feminism

An illustration depicts five women standing together in a row in front of a brick wall topped with razor wire. They each hold a placard. The first one reads 'Schools not jails', the second reads 'Build Communities not Prisons', the third held by Aunty Vickie Roach says 'No Justice in prison for Aboriginal Women', the fourth held by Amanda George reads 'Strip Searches are Sexual Assault' and the final one reads 'Decarceration now'. Click here

Image: Flat Out.


We cannot eliminate violence by entrenching a violent system.

We have to look at demolishing it – and to do that, we have to listen to the women who are at the intersections. If we do that, we will not look to ‘prison’ or the ‘justice system’ as a solution to violence, but will instead see it for what it is, an inherently violent institution intent on harming those who have already been harmed in order to entrench domination over those who are deemed as ‘other’ and ‘unworthy’.

Amy McQuire, Darumbal and South Sea Islander journalist

 ‘Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence. Casting policing and prisons as the solution to domestic violence both justifies increases to police and prison budgets and diverts attention from the cuts to programs that enable survivors to escape, such as shelters, public housing, and welfare. And finally, positioning police and prisons as the principal antidote discourages seeking other responses, including community interventions and long-term organizing.’

‘We don’t have to deploy state violence in a disastrous attempt to curb domestic violence’

Victoria Law, Against Carceral Feminism

 

 

 


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Projection onto the old East Perth Police Watchhouse, Whadjuk Nyoongar Country (Perth), 2016. Photo: Charandev Singh.

Ending Indigenous Femicide:  Calling States to Account

Canada

‘The fact that this National Inquiry is happening now doesn’t mean that Indigenous Peoples waited this long to speak up; it means it took this long for Canada to listen.’

Reclaiming Power and Place‘, MMIWG Final report (p49)

The MMIWG Inquiry

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‘MMIWG inquiry’s final report and its “calls for justice”‘, Power & Politics, 2019. Video: CBC News.

Public pressure for a full inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people came from families and grassroots organisations with the support of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and politicians. The Conservative Party of Canada, under the government of Stephen Harper, were dismissive of an inquiry.  It was not until 2016 that a new Canadian federal government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, agreed to establish the national inquiry. Amidst sustained scrutiny and criticism the commissioners released the interim report ‘Our Women and Girls are Sacred’ in late 2017.

The final report was released in June 2019.

Reclaiming Power and Place: MMIW Final Report

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‘MMIWG inquiry closing ceremony LIVE’, CBC News, 2019.


‘The truths shared in these National Inquiry hearings tell the story – or, more accurately, thousands of stories – of acts of genocide against First Nations, Inuit and Métis women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This violence amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, which especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.’

From the Introduction to the Final Report of the National Inquiry, released in June 2019.


Initial responses to the report have been dominated by controversy over the term ‘genocide’ but Prime Minister Trudeau has signalled his acceptance of the findings, stating: ‘We cannot pretend to be a country that cares about human rights, that has a positive impact on the world, if we do not end this situation once and for all.’

United States

‘I wouldn’t say that we’re more vulnerable, I’d say that we’re targeted…It’s not about us being vulnerable victims, it’s about the system being designed to target and marginalize our women.’

Annita Lucchesi, Southern Cheyenne descendant and cartographer 


‘In 15-years of conflict in Iraq the US suffered 4,541 fatalities. In 2016 alone, there were 5,712 reported MMIWG cases in the US. That should provide pause and context’. 

Tom Rodgers, Executive Vice President of Global Indigenous Council

 

United States: Legislative Responses

An Indigenous woman looks directly at the camera. On her face is a red handprint that covers her mouth. The accompanying text reads 'Invisible no more. 5,712 Native women were reported murdered or missing in 2016. Now we're lost count. MMIW-GIC.COM #Somebodysdaughter'

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Invisible No More billboard, I-40 West, Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation. This national billboard campaign was initiated by the tribal alliance of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC), the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA), and the Global Indigenous Council (GIC). Sister tribes of the Oklahoma Indian Nations, the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho and Ponca Tribe of Nebraska are part of the tribal organizations. Photos: Alter-Native Media.

Recent initiatives in response to sustained pressure from Native American campaigners include:

  • ‘Savanna’s Act’, named in memory of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22 year old pregnant woman from the Spirit Lake Nation who was abducted and brutally murdered by her neighbour, the Act is intended to improve and increase data collection between tribal communities and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. It is described as an ‘essential first step’ in combating the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women.
  • The ‘Not Invisible Act 2019′, the first bill in U.S history introduced by four Native Americans, aims to increase intergovernmental coordination to identify and combat violent crime and human trafficking faced by tribal communities and law enforcement.
  • ‘Hanna’s Act’ (House Bill 21) is named in memory of 21 year old Hanna Harris, who was raped and murdered on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2013. Introduced in Montana, it is intended to authorise the Department of Justice to assist with missing persons investigations and employ a missing persons specialist who would also maintain the states’ missing persons database to ensure it is accurate and complete.
  • The ‘Studying the Missing and Murdered Indian Crisis Act‘ was introduced to Congress in April 2019, but has not yet been passed. This act would direct the Comptroller General of the United States to submit a report on the response of law enforcement agencies to reports of missing or murdered Indigenous people.
  • The state of Washington has taken measures towards improving law enforcement with regard to reports of missing and murdered Native American women.
  • The state of Arizona has signed into law a Bill (HB2570) to create a task force that will investigate and gather data about missing and murdered Indigenous women.
  • In November 2019,  the Department of Justice announced a new national strategy by the FBI to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP), ‘especially women’. The strategy includes three parts: the establishment of MMIP coordinators in 11 states, the establishment of specialized FBI Rapid Deployment Teams, and comprehensive data analysis; it will involve ‘ a coordinated effort by more than 50 U.S. Attorneys on NAIS, the FBI, the Office of Tribal Justice, with support from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).’
Australia

‘If you think Aboriginal women have been silent, it’s only because you haven’t heard us, our voices now hoarse after decades of screaming into the abyss of Australia’s apathy.’

Amy McQuire, Darumbal and South Sea Islander journalist

Australia: The struggle for recognition

Placard being held by someone standing in a crowd of people at a protest, it reads 'Australia is a crime scene'. A woman standing to the left is wearing read and holding clap sticks.

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Justice for Elijah – Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, Narrm (Melbourne), 2017. Photo: Charandev Singh.


‘By 2021-22 violence against Aboriginal women is estimated to cost the nation an extraordinary $2.2 billion a year. Its moral cost – which sees lives lost and communities destroyed – is unquantifiable.’

Antoinette Braybrook (Kuku Yalanji),  Convenor of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum


‘There is certainly a lack of urgency, a lack of recognition of the broader issue of violence in Australia and the amount of women who lose their lives.’

Linda Burney, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs


In Australia, the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is yet to be acknowledged by the state and the broader community in the same way as in Canada and the US. The Australian state’s major initiative to date, the  Northern Territory Intervention of  2007, ostensibly undertaken to protect children from sexual abuse through the use of the army, is strongly condemned by both Indigenous leaders and the international human rights movement. Twelve years after the Intervention, rates of child removal, incarceration and suicide are higher than before in the Northern Territory.

Families and communities continue to speak out about and mobilise around the disappearances of their loved ones, but countless cases remain unsolved and invisible to the wider public. The ABC investigation ‘Lost, missing or murdered?’ which highlights the disappearances of several Indigenous women, including Monique Clubb and Veronica Lockyer, has sparked calls from advocates for the establishment of a national taskforce.

Although awareness has increased of the hyper-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls and the rates of domestic violence they experience, the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls remains to be named as a national crisis in Australia. Most recently, as this study concludes, the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Linda Burney, called for a Senate Inquiry into violence against Aboriginal women.

The struggle continues.

Immersed in the fight for justice

This artwork depicts a woman diving into a body of water without clothes. We view the woman from below as she swims towards us.

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‘A Little Bit of Breath – Meg Rodaughan, Jaadwa Jadawadjali’, Immersed Exhibition, oil on canvas, 122x122cm, 2018. Artwork: Boneta-Marie Mabo. ‘Meg  … evokes … a figure immersed in her beliefs. … To find justice for Indigenous peoples, she dives in face first.’ – Dr Jenny Murray-Jones 

 


‘First Nations women are over-represented in systems of control. Our lives are treated as an inconvenience to white society. Our existence unsettles white Australia because it is a reminder that First Nations people are still here, that sovereignty was never ceded. Even though we are surrounded by ugliness, we immerse ourselves in the fight for equality and justice.’

Boneta-Marie Mabo, Piadram/Mumbarra artist


 

Close the Inquest

Alison Whittaker

 

Led in silence by Aunty Donna Bartlett,

our feet move to the rhythm she set.

The quiet is important. If we have heavy soles

we tip-toe from a monument to Captain Cook to

Newcastle Court House. The metaphor is obvious.

If you could give the colony feedback, you’d say

‘more subtle, please’. But the colony is like that and

sometimes it is not like that.

 

Before the more subtle flex of the colony

will come — in the form of sixty pages delivered by

video link to Ms Maher’s mother, Awabakal Aunties,

and us — our small silence

gets blotted out. A car with its windows down

blasts ‘I Love It (I Don’t Care)’ by Charli XCX and Icona Pop,

stops nearby at a traffic light. Its occupants smirk.

 

II

The smoke is readied near a placard of Ms Maher

smiling on a brown lounge in a pink shirt. Like

all photos on these placards, it was taken in the course

of a life in the same way we’re all photographed by loved ones.

So someone in a few years can say ‘Look how beautiful you are!’

or ‘Remember this?’ Not ‘Look how beautiful she was.’ or

‘Remember her’.

 

Aunty Madeline McGrady tells us about all that.

Remarks, at the inquest just gone in March, it was just

a mother and a sister in law and her in that court and a couple dozen gunjis

saying ‘it wasn’t my fault’ and ‘my sympathies’.

Aunty Donna calls them ‘blue murders’.

Aunty Tracey Henshaw says ‘negligent manslaughter’ and ‘maybe today’.

 

The flags get held upside down. Oh, and also, as we’re about to

walk on, a gust of wind spreads out the smoke to exactly

the width of the crowd and pushes it through us. Ready.

 

III

Acting State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan asks Newcastle Court

‘Who is there?’ because she is not.

 

Nor is the media, bar

two or three local outlets. There are some cops, one grabs four tissues and jokes

‘I’m a crier.’ He doesn’t, though. Everyone else is in Lidcombe, but

Ms Maher’s mother, Debbie Small, is here and so are two screens just showing

a chair until someone sits in it. We stand. The Coroner tells some

stories about Ms Maher, who was truly tender, smart, compassionate

and real, who was taken from a big Wiradjuri family who love and miss

her and whose kindness was astonishing, who’d buy coats with

her last money for neighbours and strangers. Who loved so

many and did so many other good things unobserved by this crude

public record and me.

 

The Coroner looks at the camera when

she reads and savours these bits, acknowledges the family. Then, she takes

a breath and quickens. Looks down to read things like ‘criminal history’ and

‘drug use’ and ‘antibodies’ and ‘benzodiazepines’ and we know

this unsubtle and cruel clinical pivot means the Coroner will soon say

‘protocol breached’ and ‘could have been prevented’ and

‘should’ and ‘training’ and ‘apologise for any further distress’.

And she does say these things but not ‘racism’ or ‘killed’

and then she says ‘close the inquest’ but it never really will.

An installation that brings together layers of history through floating images of Paola Balla's ancestors positioned over matriarchal Country. Trees and a river can be seen in the photo background, along with a woman wearing the Aboriginal flag on her shirt.

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Lovescapes, Wemba Wemba Country, 2017. Artist: Paola Balla. Image courtesy of the artist.

Globalizing Deathscapes

For other case studies documenting gendered and racialised violence against Indigenous women or case studies considering state violence beyond the formal custody of the state, see:

At a Lethal Intersection: the Killing of Ms Dhu (Australia)

“I’m Not Faking!”: Abandoned to Death in a Prison Cell (US)

Perpetual Insecurity: the weaponisation of mental suffering (Australia)

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Walking with our Sisters. Artwork: Teresa Burrows.

Indigenous Femicide and the Killing State

Special thanks: Dr Barry Lavallee, Professor Sunera Thobani, Dr Alison Whittaker

This case study was collectively authored by: Tess Allas, Michelle Bui, Bronwyn Carlson, Pilar Kasat, Hannah McGlade, Suvendrini Perera, Joseph Pugliese, Ayman Qwaider and Charandev Singh.

To cite this research: Tess Allas, Michelle Bui, Bronwyn Carlson, Pilar Kasat, Hannah McGlade, Suvendrini Perera, Joseph Pugliese, Ayman Qwaider and Charandev Singh. ‘Indigenous Femicide and the Killing State’. Deathscapes: Mapping Race and Violence in Settler States, 2018, https://www.deathscapes.org/case-studies/indigenous-femicide-and-the-killing-state.

Corresponding author: S.Perera@Curtin.edu.au

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.

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