Targeting of Indigenous Women 2a - The Logic of Settler Colonialism


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.

[imagecaption] 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.[/imagecaption]


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



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