The #Shutdowncanada event took place at significant transportation routes on February 13th 2015. The facebook page called for “communities across Canada to blockade their local railway, port or highway… Don’t buy, don’t fly, no work and keep the kids home from school… The goal is to significantly impact the Canadian economy for a day and demand there be an independent inquiry into the 2000+ cases of missing or murdered indigenous women.” 1 The event was planned in coordination with annual cross-Canada memorial marches for “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (MMIW) that take place on February 14th. The facebook page dedicated to this event indicated nearly 7000 people were “attending.” Although, by all accounts, the numbers in attendance were much lower.
I won’t wade into the task of picking apart the reasons for the lower turn out, other than to say that the disparity between online support and real-life engagement is an issue activism is constantly grappling with. I think it is important to acknowledge that these events involved the clear naming and symbolic targeting of colonial-capitalism as the primary underlying reality that makes violence against indigenous women acceptable and profitable. That these events have made their way into public discourse, is a powerful indication that this broad antagonism has started to be pinned down, and that people are finding ways of acting against it. Beyond blockading the economic flow that undergirds the colonial-capitalist state, these events also call for greater self-reliance through building community capacity and forming new and healthy alliances. For instance, while calls for a national inquiry have been ignored by the government, families impacted by this violence have started a grass-roots website “It Starts With Us” which includes a community data base that honours women and girls who have been subjected to violence and facilitates community organization.2
This efficacy of grassroots mobilization was clearly on display during the February 14th as memorial marches around Canada which succeeded in bringing attention to the issue of MMIW. Unlike the #Shutdown Canada actions, the memorial marches had broad public support and were in many cases (such as in Winnipeg) facilitated by the local police force.3 As one of the organizers from the Winnipeg event said in her closing address, “this event is not supposed to be a platform” for politics, rather “it is about the families [of MMIW].” This was a powerful reminder that when such events get brought into the mainstream, there is a danger of awkwardly politicizing, and then progressively depoliticizing the lived realities of indigenous people who continue to be directly and violently affected. This was perhaps the significant difference between the #shutdowncanada event and the memorial marches.
By aiming to disrupt the transportation routes needed to support the smooth flow of capitalism, #shutdowncanada events drew attention to the interlinking processes of colonialism and capitalism – an interwoven system of violences that continues evolve and be enacted in new forms. The need to maintain the focus on murdered and missing indigenous women while also confronting the status quo politics of colinal capitalism has generated debated both within indgenous communities and more broadly. For instance, many commentators question whether increased policing or a national inquiry into missing and murdered woman can actually address the actual nature of the ongoing violence. This point was made by Zhaawanongnoodin (Coleen Cardinal) during a recent roundtable of indigenous women leaders published in Rabble.ca,
“The state responding to violence against Indigenous women by ramping up police presence and building more jails perpetuates the cycle of violence. The RCMP already has been identified as being perpetrators of violence towards Indigenous women. Prisons are institutionalizing Indigenous people and have become the new residential school system. The government is going to war on Indigenous people using the police as their enforcers to serve and protect their oil, land, and resource assets. I have only had bad experiences with the police when I need protection. I would hold out on calling the police for help because I feel I am more likely to be subject to racial profiling, assault, or being criminalized or shot by them than being helped.”4
On the other hand, it is because of these persistent grassroots campaigns that MMIW has gradually become an issue that a relatively broad segment of Canada’s population is aware of. This has forced the government to at least acknowledge the issue, although Harper still shrugs it off as something that is not high on his priority list.5 One way in which this issue has forced its way into federal politics is through its influence upon the upcoming roundtable involving the Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt as well the Minister of Labour and the Status of Womenas Kellie Leitch. In the lead up to the February 27th meeting Leitch will have her hands full as she seeks to deal with another social force that is targeting the Canadian economy through stopping the transport of goods. In this case it is the Canadian Pacific Railway Strike. See more on this in the following post.6