Cee-Jai got used to violence when she was young, first witnessing it when she was “just a baby in the crib.”
Her sister’s murder in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 1992 was just one incident in a long string of violence throughout her life, she told the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
Growing up, Cee-Jai, who is identified by her first name in the inquiry’s final report, got used to being sexually and physically abused. She said that she learned not to speak up because when she did, her cries for help were never answered.
“I learnt how to be afraid at such a young age.”
Men took advantage of her mother’s poverty and addiction to alcohol — a result of years in residential school — to abuse her and her relatives.
“I learnt how to be afraid at such a young age,” Cee-Jai’s testimony in the report reads. “I remember my mom, being a single mother, she would have boyfriends. And they weren’t very nice men that came into our home.”
Cee-Jai’s story shows that Indigenous women’s safety “is threatened in ways that include, but go far beyond, a single act of physical violence,” the report says. And so addressing violence must take into account the “long-term, multi-faceted” ways that Indigenous women are denied security throughout their lives.
The inquiry’s commissioners gathered testimony from more than 2,300 people, survivors of violence and family members of women who were murdered or went missing, across the country for two years. The “inescapable conclusion” is that Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ people have experienced genocide, the final report said.
One of the report’s “calls for justice,” or recommendations, is that Canada establish a guaranteed annual liveable income, sometimes called basic income or minimum income, for everyone in the country.
Guaranteed annual income is a fixed income that citizens receive from the government.
The idea has been around for decades — a guaranteed income for single mothers was recommended by Canada’s Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1970 — but it has gained major momentum in recent years. Businessmen like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have said they support the concept and countries around the world have started experimenting with guaranteed incomes.
Ontario’s former Liberal government set up a basic income trial in 2017, but Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives cancelled the research project when they came to power.
Ontario’s basic income pilot helped this Indigenous mother go back to school. Story continues after video.
Economic insecurity plays a huge role in the violence that Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ people face in Canada, one of the national inquiry’s commissioners told HuffPost Canada in an interview.
“It was pretty much everywhere in the country that we heard about how poverty and economic insecurity played a role in the violence,” commissioner Qajaq Robinson said.
Commissioners heard from women who stayed with violent partners because they couldn’t afford to leave or get other housing, Robinson said. They heard from women who didn’t report violence because they relied on the perpetrator for income and from women who did sex work because it was their only way to survive.
“We heard about those types of situations across the country, either it leading towards violence or gang involvement, sex work or staying within violent situations to keep a roof over their heads,” Robinson said.
“We also heard about it in the context of the economic opportunities of a community as a whole.”
‘Destitute by design’
Poverty is a root cause of violence against women, Robinson said, but it’s also part of Canada’s ongoing violence towards Indigenous people.
Canada put many reserves in areas where there is no economic potential on purpose, she said. And historically, laws stopped Indigenous farmers and artisans making money off their goods.
She noted that many remote communities have no economic opportunity or the only option is in resource extraction industries, like mining. There are reserves in the Prairies that were put in marshy areas where agriculture would never be viable.
“Some communities are economically destitute by design.”
It also used to be illegal for Indigenous people to sell goods that could have made them economically independent, Robinson said.
A section of the Indian Act, which was amended in 1951, outlawed the sale of any agriculture goods grown on reserves and restricted the sale of animals and furs.
“We have to recognize that the creation of poverty ... is part of the state violence,” Robinson said. “It’s not accidental.”
A guaranteed annual income would be “a chance to move out of survival mode and live a life of dignity,” Robinson said.
“We have to recognize that the creation of poverty ... is part of the state violence. It’s not accidental.”
“It would allow space to breathe.”
Robinson said that “time will tell” if politicians make a serious effort to enact the report’s calls for justice.
But she said she is certain that Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people, the Indigenous community as a whole, and other “conscientious Canadians” will not let politicians forget the report and how much work still needs to be done.
“I have confidence in people.”