I Am Accountable to Loretta Saunders
As the news of Loretta Saunders’ death settles in, I cycle through waves of sadness, anger, and resignation. Each time another Indigenous woman is murdered or abducted, I experience this same cycle of feeling compelled to action and feeling completely useless. Having spent my entire adult life talking about this colonial violence and its impact on our communities, I wonder if a time will ever come when this cycle will end. When will the list of names of the dead stop growing?
Today, I’m encouraged by the fact that awareness about this violence has grown immensely over the years, such that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across Turtle Island are expressing their outrage at Loretta’s death. Ten or fifteen years ago, this violence was just as widespread but was not as visible as it is now. At least now we have a language to talk about it, to name our anger, to link this latest murder to the hundreds of others that have preceded it. We are connected through our grief and our collective resistance to this terror which targets our relations. We are linked through our sense of urgency to stop this violence from continuing and to change the society in which this terror is normalized.
So now that we can collectively name this violence, what do we want to do about it? I see many people calling for harsher penalties under Canadian law, for more police protection. I see increasing calls for a national inquiry led by the Canadian government. And, yes, I can see the rationale behind this. An inquiry would show that the government takes this issue seriously. It would show that representatives of Canadian law can see, as we do, that this widespread violence is unacceptable. There is hope that an inquiry would lead to recommendations for real change, based on the input of community members who know this violence all too well.
But as an Indigenous woman seeking to understand the relationship between law and violence, I do not believe these answers are enough. Appealing to the same government that removes our children from our homes, takes our land for resource extraction, and denies our own legal jurisdiction over our homelands and households does not make sense to me. Is Harper really the source of solutions to violence against our aunties?
I want to see Loretta Saunders and the hundreds of other women not only remembered for the incredible leaders, knowledge keepers and valued family members they were. I also want to ensure that our efforts prevent more violence from happening today. Right now. Not tomorrow, but today. And I believe these changes are only possible if we acknowledge the connection between violence against Indigenous women and the dehumanization of Indigenous people in general, which is accomplished through Canadian law. We often seem so focused on state solutions to violence that we are unable to think about answers that emerge from Indigenous law, and that contribute to the resurgence of Indigenous self-determination. Looking for answers in Canadian law and governance is always going to be limited by the nature of colonial power relations. Even if the Canadian government conducts an inquiry, we may see, as we did with the Pickton inquiry or the inquiry into Frank Paul’s death, that the government is not bound to implement its own findings. In these two examples, the answer to “justice” only seems to go as far as actually conducting an inquiry. The inquiry itself stands in for change. This is how colonial power perpetuates itself – the negligence and violence of Canadian law is precisely how violence against us is normalized. So the solutions to be found there are limited.
Loretta Saunders deserves better than a ten thousand-page report. She deserves real change. She deserves a call for no more violent deaths. Not one more. Starting today. What she really deserves is not to have died at all, but to be sitting at home right now drinking tea and working on her thesis – not a thesis on colonial violence, but on something made possible because that violence has ended.
We need to ask different questions in order to find tangible solutions.
What if we begin by asking questions that emerge within a recognition of Indigenous laws, which are integral to maintaining Indigenous communities? What might happen if the people who perpetrate violence against Indigenous girls and women were seen as accountable to the families and communities for their loss? What if they had to spend the rest of their lives directly contributing to the wellbeing of those communities? What if someone who beat an Indigenous woman was required to build her family a new house, or build her community a new cultural center? What if they had to sit in front of the elders in her community and be accountable to them? What other solutions might there be within Indigenous legal systems that would increase Canadian’s accountability to Indigenous communities when they take the life of one of our community members?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think they open up very different solutions than just putting assailants in jail. Violent offenders usually get out of jail eventually, possibly no less violent and racist than when they went in. How do we begin to create a greater sense of accountability to Indigenous women and our communities before violence happens? We might look for ways to grow this accountability in our daily lives, not only as a reaction to violence after it happens. As Indigenous people, we have the power to prevent violence within our own families and communities, such that violence against girls and women is no longer the norm. And if violence does happen, we answer to our own laws and the family members of those we have harmed, shifting our accountability toward one another. I am trying to imagine solutions that will actually lead to changing the kinds of relationships in which the violence we face is normalized. Ultimately I think we need to imagine solutions that counter our dehumanization, and I don’t believe that Canadian law is capable of doing this.
I am accountable to Loretta Saunders. The question is how do we make her murderers accountable to her? Only then, I think, will this violence end.
Sarah Hunt (Ph.D. cand.) is a writer and activist from the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. Follow her on Twitter: @thesarahhunt
Last week we learned that Loretta Saunders, an Inuk student from Labrador, has been murdered. In her death, our sister joins a long and growing list of Indigenous women and girls who have been, and continue to be, killed or disappeared across Turtle Island. Our hearts are heavy, filled with both grief and outrage at this unrelenting colonial violence against our people. And we have to draw the line. The violence must stop. In this spirit, we are running a series of posts, from a range of voices, that address this crisis and declare: #ItEndsHere. We are committed to eliminating all forms of violence within Indigenous communities, including violence based on gender and sexual identity (sexual orientation). And we cannot allow this to continue. Please join us in making this commitment and in working through how we can respond as a community to bring justice to those who have been taken from us, and to hold those who perpetrate violence against us accountable. In peace, friendship and solidarity.