Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Life Experiences of Aboriginal Girls

"We must all stand together to condemn these senseless acts of violence, particularly by our own people. We must stop hurting one another, we must end the pattern."
Cameron Alexis, AFN [Assembly of First Nations] Regional Chief, Alberta
"They're pretty dark [her pencil sketches]. I started drawing because it helped me express ,my feelings. It's like an escape from the reality, I guess."
"The world needs more creative people that are my age. We are the future."
"I actually had to go hide in someone's yard because this car was following me. [I waited there for] ten minutes until another person down the street went out to  start their vehicle."
"I was thinking of my parents. They didn't know I went out, I had wanted to surprise them."
"It's like my entire life became this horror movie and I'm just waiting to be kidnapped or murdered. I'm 16 years old and no aboriginal girl should ever stress over things like that."
Faith, 16 

"I can't avoid any street because any street I'm on, I get followed."
"I had been having a few issues while walking place to place during the night in the Maples, where I live. I would be getting followed and harassed by people who I don't even know, which is very disturbing to me because I haven't done anything wrong to make them feel the way they feel about me."
"A man in a white car pulled up beside me and a friend while the police drove right past us and didn't do anything, even though the police pulled into the parking lot in front of us. The man saw the cop car and drove off, but [it upset me] that the police didn't take any action or find anything suspicious or notice a car pulled up beside two young girls on the road where there is no parking zone."
"Now, ever since this happened, I have been having problems with going places during the day or night because of what I have been seeing on the news about all these young teenage aboriginal girls being murdered and missing."
"I now carry a pocket knife with me for protection."
Carolee, age 16

"I was at a Halloween party and I didn't notice I put my phone on vibrate and I had seven missed calls from my grandma and my uncle."
"If I ever drank, I'd probably get yelled at and grounded. I'm from a really tough family."
"Winnipeg is known for the most murders and the most drunk people. There's so much bad people here."
Liberty, age 15

"School is where I love to be. I feel cool. I walk into the hallways and everyone moves all at the same time, I just walk through the middle. It's like they all go 'phssh!'"
"I don't like being at home. When I was two or three, my grandma took me home from the hospital. My mother was too young to take care of me. She was 17 when she had me. I lived with my grandma for the first few years, and my mom and my dad were kind of there."
"I was supposed to see her [favourite cousin] the day before she was murdered. I kind of just held it together throughout the day [at school]. I don't know exactly what happened. I just know she was murdered in her house. It kind of makes me sad and scared. Whoever did it could still be out there killing more people."
"I don't like talking [about any missing or murdered women]. It's hard for me. I'm sensitive in a lot of ways -- I have sensitive skin, sensitive eyes, sensitive ears."
"I don't feel safe anymore. And I worry about my younger siblings. If anything ever happened, I wouldn't be able to live with not having them with me."
"I want to live in a very big house and get married."
Angel, age 16

"The most important person in my life is my girlfriend, Chantal. She's my fulfilment, my happiness and the comfort of home to me -- I would do anything to prevent something bad from happening [to her]."
"I thought it was bad and wrong of me to think of even kissing a girl or liking one. So I didn't acknowledge it very much. [It was] a hard time for me. My parents weren't accepting of it. They would joke around ... or give me dirty looks. They don't buy me clothes -- just sweaters and shoes - because I dress like a boy."
"She [Chantal] buses over after school and [we] just chill -- watch movies, eat or go skating or [go on] walks or to see our friends. Sometimes we join youth programs together."
"I send [Chantal] home every night with a knife. I'm always worried, sitting on my bed waiting for her message, telling me she's home, knowing she's walking to and from the bus stop alone, and unaware of what could happen to her."
"[Mainly], my dream is to eventually gain happiness in myself [and be] confident. And have a family with a beautiful girl."
Taylor, age 16

These are teen-agers like any other girls of their age, with many of the same self-absorbed concerns and hopes for their future, trying to find comfort and feel their way around the world of emerging adulthood, but they are teens with a heritage of First Nations cultures within Canada. And so, they have a very special burden; that of discrimination emanating from non-natives who feel superior to those of aboriginal ancestry, even while that aboriginal ancestry is a matter of justifiable pride to the girls.

Their background as First Nations children is also that of familial dysfunction, of drug addiction and alcoholism, of violence against women, of unemployment, of runaway children living on the streets of Winnipeg, plying the trades to enable themselves to live. It is a situation where aboriginals living on reserves in often-remote, inaccessible areas of the country are poverty stricken, and dependent on government handouts to enable their existence. Above all, it is a history of aggravated disrespect, and grudging negotiations between tribal leaders and governments.

Because of the rampant racism they know surrounds their ancestry and their culture, the girls are wary. Because of the violence that many have experienced, not necessarily first-hand, sometimes anecdotally, sometimes through extended family, they are hyper-aware of personal safety and the gloom of bad things happening to others, hoping to avoid having them happen to them. They are meeting as a group in a classroom at Winnipeg's Maples Collegiate Institute.

There are a dozen girls, aged between 15 and 19, meeting to discuss issues of importance to them. And they're attending a four-day workshop initiated and put on by a number of concerned social groups to explore their attitudes and apprehensions, aspirations and experiences. These are not aboriginal girls who are homeless and bypassing an education. These girls mostly do very well at their academic studies and plan to further their education.

They live in a neighbourhood of Winnipeg, a suburb where average family income is slightly higher than the city's median income, where the streets have modest bungalows and the school they attend supports indigenous culture. Each of them has experienced situations few non-Native girls have. Though for many young girls from other backgrounds  some of their experiences would be familiar. Some have been bounced from home to home, displaced from reserves, suffer some degree of depression anxiety, eating disorders.

And they talk about lurking dangers on Winnipeg's streets. Where aboriginal women are targeted by strangers. There's a story going the rounds of a back van driving around "kidnapping girls/women for sex, then dumping their bodies." One girl states, "It's not so much a coincidence. I think it's a plan."  But, in fact, it's an urban legend of sorts, there is no black van, there are no girls being kidnapped for sex, their bodies dumped, according to police.

Little wonder, though, that the girls speak of these things, for they do happen, as thankfully isolated, but horrific events and it is aboriginal girls that are targeted, sure enough. The girls taking part in the workshop are usually mute about these things, not sharing them with family members, nor with other girls their age, let alone teachers, or journalists, since it isn't a pleasant subject for them. But it does describe their lives.

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