“Remember my face,” Sii-am Hamilton told the crowd gathered on Finnieston Street near the high fencing that surrounds the Cop26 summit on Tuesday morning. “Remember because it’s not if, it’s when you will go missing, if you are involved in land rights.”
The rally for murdered and missing indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people heard a painful litany of lost loved ones from witnesses from Alaska to the Amazon, and the legacy of their absence for families and communities.
“Say their names,” said Delee Nikal, a Wet’suwet’en activist. “Do not forgot our sisters who have been stolen.” Like her fellow speakers, she was explicit: “The femicide is directly linked to the ecocide … there needs to be more awareness that these extractive industries, all that is affecting our climate and destroying our territories, is intertwined with violence against our women and girls.”
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In Canada, Indigenous women and girls are targeted for violence more than any other group, and are 12 times more likely to go missing or be killed. In the US, the justice department found that Native American women faced murder rates more than 10 times the national average.
But this abuse does not happen free of context: in 2019, Canada’s national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls accepted the link between “boomtown” and “man camp” environments that emerged around resource extraction projects and violence against Indigenous women and girls, as well as increased sex industry activities in those areas.
And still this has yet to translate into genuine recognition by the leaders at the UN summit or indeed the wider environmental movement, Hamilton, from British Columbia, said after the rally. “At larger international events like this one and even at home, I don’t think that people understand just how dangerous the lives of Indigenous women have gotten. Our conversations shift towards catchy phrases like ‘net zero’ or ‘1.5’, which don’t represent just how violent the experience of growing up in an extractive world has become.”
The fear Hamilton expressed at the rally was, she said, “really natural”. Over the past year she has been involved in direct activism at Fairy Creek, protesting against the logging of old-growth forest in southern Vancouver Island. “And this year alone I’ve watched so much violence, towards specifically young Indigenous women and girls, at the hands of the police. I’ve watched so many people have their bones broken, their hair ripped out, their eyes gouged.”
She said articulating and sharing these struggles with women from different countries and communities could be at once reassuring and devastating. “It makes you feel less isolated when you’re meeting so many other people who are experiencing similar forms of violence. No matter what kind of extractive industry is attacking a community, it has same rippling effect on women.”
She added: “It makes you feel less lonely, but at the same time it creates this different type of rage that I really can’t describe – knowing that there are so many women missing, it’s not just in Canada, and it’s not just in Mexico, it’s all over the world. Wherever you find people that are struggling for the land, you will find missing women.”
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