Violence impacting Indigenous people and communities

In recent weeks, we have been witness to both historical and recent violence against Indigenous individuals and communities. Many of these atrocities have particularly affected Indigenous women, children, and gender-diverse people.

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres OCRCC) stands in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples and their communities in the face of these acts of violence:

  • The remains of 215 children were found buried in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.—one of more than 150 institutions in a defunct system that, for over a century, separated Indigenous children from their families to assimilate them into Canadian society. Many Indigenous youth lost their lives at residential institutions – for example, one in five students at Red Deer’s residential school died[1] – and Justice Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, estimates the number of children who died in residential schools may be as high as 30,000. Many young also suffered abuse[2]: an estimated 5,000 people committed a sexual offence against Indigenous youth at residential schools during the system’s 100 year existence, but fewer than 50 were ever convicted[3].
  • An inquiry examined the death of Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven, who filmed herself on social media as a nurse and an orderly were heard making derogatory comments toward her. Joyce later died in hospital. An expert witness told the inquiry that she could have been saved if she’d been more closely monitored[4].
  • Indigenous women in Canada today are seven times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be a victim of murder, and are also much more likely to experience sexual violence[5]. Indigenous groups have known this for years and have pressed for government for action. In June, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) released the NWAC Action Plan to End the Attack Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and Gender-Diverse People, aimed at taking action to end “this genocide–the crimes against Indigenous women that continue to take lives and destroy many others from loss, trauma, and grief”[6].
  • The federal government released its own action plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Indigenous and gender-based violence groups alike have criticized the plan for lacking accountability, lacking concrete actions for change, and for its release two years after the inquiry delivered its recommendations. Ontario Native Women’s Association states: “Nowhere in the [action plan] document do governments acknowledge and accept responsibility for the laws, policies, and practices that contribute to, and perpetuate, the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples, and specifically of Indigenous women, girls 2SLGBTQQIA+ people”[7].

Many other acts of violence against Indigenous people have occurred in addition to these. 

While some of these may seem to refer to a single or one-time incident, they are all emblematic of systemic violence impacting Indigenous people and communities and racism, over many decades. Violence is systemic when it keeps happening over and over again; when it is entrenched in systems like healthcare and child protection; and when little is done to hold people accountable for harmful behavior. Systemic violence is rooted in inequitable attitudes and beliefs—in this case, racism and colonial ideals.

Violence against Indigenous people and Canada’s colonial history

The legacy of settler exploitation and white supremacy faced by Indigenous Peoples is “thoroughly documented” [8] in Canada’s history. Canadian systems have intentionally coerced, controlled and stole from Indigenous Peoples[9] over many decades. Today, the ongoing failure of the Canadian government to honour treaties, unceded Indigenous land and land claims is an expression of settler (that is, white) perceived entitlement to land and other resources.  Settler leadership today continues to use its power to enable business and resource-extraction interests[10] to attain capital through the exploitation of land.

Exploitation of Indigenous human bodies through violence against Indigenous people is also a part of our colonial legacy. For example, violence brought by colonialism “upon Indigenous Peoples was normalized through the propagation of degrading cultural and sexual myths concerning Indigenous women and men”[11], aggrandizing ideas of white superiority and white womanhood[12], and little recourse for those that harmed Indigenous persons.

Seeing and speaking out against this history is an important part of addressing violence against Indigenous communities. Recognition of – and reparations for – these atrocities must be included in strategies for change.

Violence against Indigenous people and communities today

Indigenous experiences of Canadian residential schools[13] and the 60s scoop[14] are just two examples of more recent historical violence.

Projects of resource extraction near Indigenous communities contribute to violence experienced by Indigenous communities (by way of loss of resources and land) as well as violence against Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls heard from many “Expert Witnesses, institutional witnesses, and Knowledge Keepers [who] told the National Inquiry that resource extraction projects can drive violence against Indigenous women in several ways, including issues related to transient workers, harassment and assault in the workplace, rotational shift work, substance abuse and addictions, and economic insecurity”[15].

Overall, gender-based violence impacts Indigenous communities differently than other communities in Canada. For example:

  • Indigenous women aged 25 to 44 are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die as a result of violence[17]
  • Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada —and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women
  • Indigenous women in Canada today are three times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be violently or sexually assaulted[18]
  • A TransPulse study on the experiences of racialized trans and non-binary persons found that physical violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault were all significantly more common among racialized respondents, including Indigenous persons, when compared to non-racialized respondents[19].

Last, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact people of color in Canada, including Indigenous people, in its impacts, in COVID-19 incident, and in death rates[20]. For example, upon this writing, when much of Canada is seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases, Kashechewan, Ontario, an Indigenous community of around 2,000 people, currently has over 200 cases[21]: this translates into over 12,000 cases per 100,000—a rate far greater than any other Ontario region. In Kashechewan, where health, practical and social service resources are extremely limited and many of those infected are children and youth, the community is “exhausted trying to deal with…safety issues in the community, while overcrowding is aggravating the situation”[22].

Chief Leo Friday stated: “It didn’t have to be this way…For years we have been asking for help to address our housing and infrastructure needs”[23]. The realities of COVID-19, in this case and many others, is connected to systemic realities of racism and class differences — systemic inequities that inform where we live, how we live, and the conditions of our employment, work-spaces and affordable housing.

Indigenous Peoples in Canada hold many strengths and have extensive expertise

Indigenous people have many strengths, have extensive expertise and continue to show incredible leadership —not just in spite of colonial violence, but in resistance to it. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked at the experiences of residential school survivors, notes:

Indigenous people “are more than just victims of violence. They are also holders of Treaty, constitutional, and human rights. They are women and men who have resilience, courage, and vision. Many have become Elders, community leaders, educators, lawyers, and political activists who are dedicated to revitalizing their cultures, languages, Treaties, laws, and governance systems. Through lived experience, they have gained deep insights into what victims of violence require to heal[24].

Indigenous organizations, elders, community members and leaders have considerable expertise in violence prevention, as well as in strategies for healing. Everyone has a role in recognizing and responding to violence impacting Indigenous people in Canada. However, strategies to address violence impacting Indigenous communities must be self-determined and prioritize indigenous-led solutions[25].

We see and hear you

If you are personally affected by systemic violence, racism or the recent reports of violence against Indigenous people, please know that we care about you. There are spaces and people that support you.

  • If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, find local support across Ontario at sexualassaultsupport.ca/support
  • Support for Indigenous women is available in 14 languages all across Ontario. Talk 4 Healing is a culturally grounded, fully confidential helpline for Indigenous women: 1-855-554-HEAL or chat online at talk4healing.com
  • Support is available to anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and to those who are triggered by the latest reports. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419

What allies can do

If you are a settler ally, a community leader or a person with political leadership, there are things you can do to support Indigenous communities and push back against racist violence. You can:

  • Learn about the history of anti-Indigenous racism in Canada and the history of residential schools
  • Actively reflect on the biases this has created in you and others, and in the systems we live with today
  • If you work in these systems, challenge them to take responsibility for past harms to Indigenous people. Then commit to creating new ways to work with Indigenous communities so to not recreate harmful patterns and processes
  • Make space for Indigenous community members to re-shape the systems you’re a part of. Communities bring expertise about the strengths of the community. They are also aware of failed system responses, including the ways that systems harm Indigenous folks. Indigenous communities, elders, organizations and community members are best-positioned to identify better ways of doing things, ways to work together, and solutions that will work best for them
  • Center the knowledge of Indigenous communities, and take action to see recommended actions through. The Canadian Association of Midwives shares: “As non-Indigenous people, our tendency is to wait on reports and the findings of federally appointed commissions to validate what Indigenous people already know. While research and evidence-gathering serve a purpose, we should not wait for this to validate the truth that is already known”[26]
  • Support the solutions identified by the Ontario Native Women’s Association, in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Solutions should include: a “commitment for urgent emergency services to prevent the abuse, exploitation, disappearances and murders of Indigenous women and girls”, as well as “a monitoring mechanism – independent of the government of Canada – to monitor the urgent end to genocide”[27]
  • Support the solutions identified by the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s NWAC Action Plan to End the Attack Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and Gender-Diverse People. Advocate to your local and federal government to implement its actions. The Native Women’s Association of Canada says: “There can be no more aspirational documents. There can be no more playing around the edges of this genocide. The next steps must be concrete, actionable, costed, and quickly put into effect”[28].

We believe that violence cannot be separated from a broader context – one in which those that are harmed, those that cause harm, and the violation itself exist in a larger system of social norms and inequities.

At OCRCC, we also commit to doing our own work. This includes taking anti-racist and decolonizing approaches to our partnerships, practices and policies; centering Indigenous survivors of violence in our work; centering Indigenous voices and knowledge in our work; and prioritizing anti-racist and decolonizing trainings and tools for our members and staff.

Much as OCRCC’s understandings of sexual violence is rooted in a systemic analysis of violence, broader acts of violence that affect certain communities, people, or identities must also be understood this way.  Addressing racism is a part of this work.

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is a network of community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario. Member centres have been supporting survivors of sexual violence and offering prevention education.  If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, go to sexualassaultsupport.ca/support


[1] Babineau, A. for CBC News. Most officers aren’t racist, but the nature of modern policing must be reimagined: Racial profiling is a systemic problem, and not a case of a few bad apples. Feb 10, 2021. Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/police-racial-profiling-systemic-racism-1.5907553.

[2] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future : summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Online: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Executive_Summary_English_Web.pdf.

[3] Hopper, T. for the National Post. June 10, 2021. Why so many sexual predators at Indian Residential Schools escaped punishment. Online: https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/why-so-many-sexual-predators-at-indian-residential-schools-escaped-punishment

[4] Page, J. for CBC News. May 27, 2021. Joyce Echaquan died of pulmonary edema, could have been saved, inquiry hears: Atikamekw woman who livestreamed abusive remarks by hospital staff not properly supervised, expert says. Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/joyce-echaquan-inquiry-toxicology-1.6042783

[5] Native Women’s Association of Canada. 2021. NWAC ’s Action Plan to End the A tack Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and Gender-Diverse People . Online: https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NWAC-action-plan-FULL-ALL-EDITS.pdf.

[6] Native Women’s Association of Canada. 2021. NWAC ’s Action Plan to End the A tack Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and Gender-Diverse People . Online: https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NWAC-action-plan-FULL-ALL-EDITS.pdf.

[7] Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA). June 3, 2021. National Action Plan and Federal Pathway Will Not End Genocide of Indigenous Women and Girls. Online: https://www.onwa.ca/post/national-action-plan-and-federal-pathway-will-not-end-genocide-of-indigenous-women-and-girls

[8] Nonomura, Robert. (2020). Trafficking at the Intersections: Racism, Colonialism, Sexism, and Exploitation in Canada. Learning Network Brief (36). London, Ontario: Learning Network, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children. Online: http://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/our-work/briefs/brief-36.html: 8-9.

[9] See: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future : summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Online: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Executive_Summary_English_Web.pdf. See also: Nonomura, Robert. (2020). Trafficking at the Intersections: Racism, Colonialism, Sexism, and Exploitation in Canada. Learning Network Brief (36). London, Ontario: Learning Network, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children. Online: http://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/our-work/briefs/brief-36.html

[10] Robertson D., for the Winnipeg Free Press. Dec. 31, 2020. Escalating confrontation in name of reconciliation: Indigenous-led protests, blockades grabbed Canada’s attention in 2020. Online: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/escalating-confrontation-in-name-of- reconciliation-573508622.html

[11] Nonomura, Robert. (2020). Trafficking at the Intersections: Racism, Colonialism, Sexism, and Exploitation in Canada. Learning Network Brief (36). London, Ontario: Learning Network, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children. Online: http://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/our-work/briefs/brief-36.html: 8-9.

[12] Pietsch, N. “‘Doing Something’ About ‘Coming Together’: The Surfacing of Intersections of Race, Sex, and Sexual Violence in Victim- Blaming and in the SlutWalk Movement.” This Is What a Feminist Slut Looks Like: Perspectives on the SlutWalk Movement, edited by Alyssa Teekah et al., Demeter Press, Bradford, ON, 2015, pp. 77–91.


[13] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future : summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Online: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Executive_Summary_English_Web.pdf.


[14] Deer, Ka’nhehsí:io for CBC News. June 24, 2020. Interactive project aims to map the displacement of ’60s Scoop survivors: ‘It’s about visualizing our stories and getting our stories out to the world,’ says Colleen Hele-Cardinal. Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/sixties-scoop-displacement-map-project-1.5623989

[15] National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. 2016. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Volume 1a. Online: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp- content/uploads/2019/06/Final_Report_Vol_1a-1.pdf: 584.


[16] National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Report released June 2019. Online: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/

[17] 2004 Amnesty International report, “Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada.”


[18] Native Women’s Association of Canada. 2021. NWAC ’s Action Plan to End the A tack Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and Gender- Diverse People . Online: https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NWAC-action-plan-FULL-ALL-EDITS.pdf. 5.

[19] TransPulse. November 2020. Health and Wellbeing Among Racialized Trans Non-Binary People.


[20] Cheung, J. for CBC News. July 30, 2020. Black people and other people of colour make up 83% of reported COVID-19 cases in Toronto: 21% of reported cases affect Black people, who make up only 9% of the city’s overall population. Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-covid-19-data-1.5669091


[21] CBC News. Jun 11, 2021. Kaschechewan chief calls for assistance as COVID-19 cases spread: 114 cases in community of 2,500, many in children under the age of 18. Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/kashechewan-covid-cases- 1.6062723?fbclid=IwAR262SiLzPm2r5nZgeuUZvFWukOrJcgoOX0p-CVOE7RxG3hN3o1H4uAC5Jk

[22] Ibid.

[23] Kaufman, I., for Thunder Bay News Watch. June 13, 2021. Feds criticized for response to Kashechewan COVID-19 crisis: James Bay First Nation says federal support has been slow as the community confronts large COVID-19 outbreak. Online: https://www.tbnewswatch.com/local-news/feds-criticized-for-response-to-kashewan-covid-19-crisis- 3870745?fbclid=IwAR0YU1y6d9kqggvgiPFacNpGk8RBt6bV4xOJoGRDRoNJcHTbLLxog2Z95Mg

[24] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future : summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Online: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Executive_Summary_English_Web.pdf: 207.

[25] Native Women’s Association of Canada. 2021. NWAC ’s Action Plan to End the A tack Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and Gender- Diverse People . Online: https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NWAC-action-plan-FULL-ALL-EDITS.pdf. 4.

[26] Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM). 2021. Canadian Association of Midwives Statement on Discovery at former Kamloops Residential School. Online: https://canadianmidwives.org/2021/06/15/canadian-association-of-midwives-statement-on-discovery-at-former- kamloops-residential-school/

[27] Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA). June 3, 2021. National Action Plan and Federal Pathway Will Not End Genocide of Indigenous Women and Girls. Online: https://www.onwa.ca/post/national-action-plan-and-federal-pathway-will-not-end-genocide-of- indigenous-women-and-girls


[28] Native Women’s Association of Canada. 2021. NWAC ’s Action Plan to End the A tack Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and Gender- Diverse People . Online: https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NWAC-action-plan-FULL-ALL-EDITS.pdf. 4.

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