Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) accepts the 2014 Vox Libera Award

Monday, December 08, 2014
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Monday, December 8, 2014
On December 3, CJFE presented the 2014 Vox Libera Award to the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) at the 2014 CJFE Gala: A Night to Honour Courageous Reporting, for their work in bringing the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada to light. Dr. Dawn Harvard, 1st Vice-President of NWAC, accepted the award on behalf of the organization. Watch the entirety of Dr. Harvard's speech below, listen to an excerpt that was featured on CBC Radio's As It Happens., or, read the full transcript underneath the video. For more highlights from this year's Gala, see The best moments from the 2014 CJFE Gala.


Thank you so very much to everybody for having us here tonight. I’m very honoured to be in the presence of so many likeminded people. As I’m sure you’re all aware, it takes a lot of courage to stand up and expose the truth. Unfortunately for us, the treatment of indigenous peoples in Canada has been a shameful secret for far too long. As a nation, when we are collectively appalled by the abuse and violence inflicted upon women in other parts of the world we rush to send aid overseas to far and distant deserts while we consistently, and perhaps for some deliberately, ignore what goes on in our own backyards, in communities but a few miles down the road from your own town. It’s sad to say, but violence against aboriginal women and girls has become normalized in this country. It has been accepted. When families go to report that their loved one is missing they’re told “That’s one less welfare cheque that we have to pay for.” “That’s one less hooker on my beat” comes from the cops. When we started this work back in 1989, we did a report and we found that eight out of 10 indigenous women were victims of violence, of abuse. No one believed us. Then 15 years later in 2005, when we went to Kelowna to talk about the issues facing our people, the leadership (both aboriginal leadership and the government of Canada) said they didn’t want to put violence against indigenous women and girls on the agenda. They wanted to discuss real issues, like land claims and economic development, because violence would deal with itself. Now, 10 years later here we are at events like this one tonight. Finally, ending violence is no longer on the agenda, it is the agenda. The crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls is not an aboriginal problem. It’s not a women’s issue. This is a national tragedy and a national shame. I was recently challenged by one of my elders who said “Why do you always talk about missing and murdered?” I said “Well they’re missing and they’re murdered, it makes sense to me.” I thought “Duh.” And she said “No, they’re not missing. They’re not like so many misplaced keys, or your wallet, or your sunglasses. These women and girls were stolen. They were stolen from their families and from our communities.” And I’ll give you a little example of why: here in Canada over 93% of the victims of human trafficking are Canadian and a disproportionate number of those are aboriginal women and girls. And to have arguments about whether prostitution is a choice or a right is ludicrous when you find out that the average age for these women that they entered, that they were recruited, into the sex trade is 13 years. We know how averages work, grade five math. That means that for every 15 year old, for every 16 year old, there were that many nine year olds, ten year old girls. Our girls as young as eight are being recruited: in the parks, on their way home from school. This is the reality of what’s happening right here in our country, in our own backyards, in our own streets. And last summer when I was talking about this, and we all know what it’s like we talk about these things, and a child who never hears says “I didn’t hear you the first three times you called me Mommy.” But say “prostitution” and their ears perk up. And so she asked “What is this all about?” and I had to explain to her what was going on: the rates, the missing women, the murdered women. And she said “But we’re native, right Mommy?” I say “yep.” And then she says “But I’m a girl,” “yep.” And I can see the light go on. And she says “Does that mean I’m in danger?” And I wanted to say “No of course, I will take care of you. Mommy will protect you” and I realized it’s not that simple. Here in Canada, I can’t promise that because we know the situation. But that’s why this is so important that we’re here tonight. Because as my grandfather always told me, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” So to be here tonight, with so many people who have the courage to stand with us and support us, because it is not a popular place to be, shows that you are all willing to be part of that solution, to take up our cause, and carry this story forward. And for that, truly truly thank you.

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