What we want
by Claudette Dumont-Smith
I am writing this article primarily for one purpose. That is to inform or educate my non-aboriginal colleagues of the dreadful conditions aboriginal women are forced to live in, both on and off-reserve, even in today's modern world. I will share with the readers what aboriginal women want for themselves and their families, which is not different than what the rest of the women in mainstream society want. They have told me of their hopes and aspirations in various ways: through a nation-wide study on family violence that I oversaw in 1991 and when I traveled as an aboriginal circle member on the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women. It was through my professional career as a registered nurse and my many years of experience in the area of family violence that I was appointed to be a member of the aboriginal circle on the Panel by the Indian and Inuit Nurses Association of Canada.
Statistics continue to prove that aboriginal women are indeed the poorest of Canada's poor. Many of them, twice the national average at least, head single parent households and subsist on social assistance. Aboriginal women bear children at a much younger age and have more children than their non-native counterparts. They live in overcrowded dwellings on-reserve or in slum neighborhoods off-reserve. Eight aboriginal women out of ten are abused and they are about four times more likely to die from accidents or violence as compared to the rest of the Canadian female population; the suicide rate is more than twice the national average. They live in a society that is male dominated both on or off-reserve. Aboriginal leaders are customarily males as are non-aboriginal leaders.
Services to those living on-reserve are inadequate or non-existent. Services to those residing off-reserve are culturally inappropriate. Accessibility to services and programs for both groups remains a serious problem.
There is a lack of well-trained health and social service providers on-reserve and for the aboriginal women off-reserve these care-givers, in the majority of instances, lack cultural sensitivity. Many times the abused women must leave her home and children to seek services that are culturally inappropriate in a foreign surrounding. It does not surprise me in the least that in many, many instances the victim will return to her abusive partner and former destructive life-style. What other choice does she have? She could choose to live off-reserve on social assistance in a ghettoized section of a city, away from family and friends and familiar surroundings. Her options to find a better life for her and her children are very limited indeed.