Contributors to Violence in Indigenous Communities in Canada.

Featuring the Rural Women Survey – Community Organizations February 2018

In Canada the plight of the Indigenous Woman to self-actualize is as daunting as ever and must become an area of focus to challenge the current state of affairs.  While other women in Canada are experiencing levels of empowerment, our Indigenous sisters are largely still fighting for their voices to be heard and their rights in the areas of gender based violence, access to transportation, health care and education.

The February 2014 Amnesty International Executive Summary of the 2011 Statistics Canada report states that, “Violence affects Indigenous women and girls in their own families and communities, as well as in predominantly non-Indigenous communities, and threatens Indigenous women and girls from all walks of life. This violence against Indigenous women and girls has deep roots in racism, marginalization and poverty.” Included for your convenience is the link to the document

In response to calls for action from Indigenous families, communities and organizations, as well as non-governmental and international organizations, the Government of Canada launched a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in September 2016.  Composed of four Commissioners from across the country, the Commissioners’ mandate is to examine and report on the systemic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQ individuals in Canada by looking at patterns and underlying factors.

From the beginning, the Inquiry was fraught with controversy resulting in a rotation of commissioners and accusations that the Inquiry did not provide enough time or access for all Indigenous communities to participate.  However, as of July 25, 2018 the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls website reports 1273 testimonies have been provided by family members and survivors who shared their truths.  340 Artistic Expressions have been received.  1859 families and survivors registered to participate.

On June 5th, 2018, the federal government granted the National Inquiry a short extension of six months, instead of an additional 24 months requested. The National Inquiry is expected to conclude its research and submit its final report by April 30, 2019.  The Commissioners have been given the direction to conduct hearings on the following topics:

  1. Colonial Violence – socio-economic, health impacts, wellness
  2. The Family: Child Welfare, Supports to family, Domestic Violence
  3. Oversight and Accountability in/of the Criminal Justice System
  4. Sexual Exploitation/Human Trafficking/Sexual Violence

Testimonials from Indigenous families during the Inquiry being held across Canada indicate that police procedures and practices for responding to missing persons often fail to take into account the pervasiveness and severity of threats faced by Indigenous women and girls, resulting in a failure to take the report seriously.  Bias among law enforcement officers often result in the ignoring of a suspicious death leading to investigations that are under resourced or aborted without further consideration. The resulting impact is the normalization of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Since the arrival of the colonials on Turtle Island (Canada), Indigenous women and girls have been the target of all forms of violence.  The entire Indigenous culture has suffered racism, cultural rape and genocide. However, for women and girls the impact has been more intense with continued power imbalances within families and communities.

The continued practice of human rights abuses toward Indigenous communities have long been an embarrassment for Canada.  However, calls from private citizens, civil society organizations and Indigenous community leaders have had little impact on influencing government response to address the issues and provide culturally appropriate redress to heal a centuries old wound.

In seeking to understand the issues that affect rural women, Indigenous communities are often rural, it was important to spearhead “The Rural Woman Survey-Community Organizations” which was distributed to organizations across Canada, India, Rwanda and the USA in January 2018 and closed on February 15, 2018. The break down of responses are as follows: New Brunswick (2), Quebec (1), Ontario (3), Sasktachewan (7), Alberta (8), British Columbia (59), California (1), India (1), Rwanda (1) and one Native Band from an unidentified location. In total eighty-four organizations responded to the survey about their experiences in serving women in rural communities in the following categories: Transportation, Health Care, Education, Technology, Gender Based Violence, Equity, Challenges and Opportunities.

Of the 84 respondents 59 were from British Columbia (BC). The organizations included representatives from the Peace River District and as far north as Fort Nelson down to the Kootenay and Selkirk areas, the Okanagan, the Caledonian region, the Skeena Valley and Haida Gwaii, the Central BC Coast, parts of Vancouver Island (central west and east coastal areas) and offshore islands in the Strait of Georgia/Salish Sea, as well as the Howe Sound area. These areas are isolated by geography – immense distances, isolated valley areas separated by mountain ranges, and offshore islands requiring either flights or ferries to reach larger population centres. One organization indicated it took 7 hours to drive to a larger population centre.


Overwhelmingly, transportation is the greatest problem for rural dwellers in Canada. While not a huge problem in heavily populated India, certainly public transportation is inaccessible in Rwanda, two other countries included in the survey. In fact, public transportation was rated “very accessible” by none of the total number of respondents. The vast majority (91.21%) of all organizations rated it either “accessible with challenges”49.9 % or “inaccessible”42.21%. Only 6 Canadian organizations and the one from India rated public transportation as “accessible” (8.4%)

Another question that further breaks down these statistics dealt with the kinds of transportation available: buses, trains, taxis and other. Of those who responded to how many buses per hour were available, 6 reported none, 7 reported 1 or more, 2 replied 1 a day, one each of 2 a day, 3 a day, 4 a day and 3 buses 3 times a week. Those who did have bus service hourly frequently volunteered the buses did not run in the evenings, weekends or holidays.

The availability of taxi companies was much more varied, with several further comments. Thirteen reported no taxi service at all while 14 listed 1 and another 2 were part time. Thirteen reported 2 or more taxi companies. Comments included the fact that the company had only one car, or there was one “sometimes” and another “with one driver who works when he feels like it.” Another listed two taxis but “who rarely ever answer”. Others were Not enough with long waits, limited, one taxi for a very large area and one reported 4 but only certain hours and are very expensive.

The availability of service organization rides received 34 answers of none, 18 reported one organization with a comment but “with specific days for specific destinations”, and one of those who mentioned the dial a ride program claimed it was “very hard to get a ride”, another “only for seniors home and disabilities,” 2 qualified rides as “not available for out of town” and one long answer “This may be accessible but requires women to feel comfortable to access ride sharing and the impact of people knowing about what they are doing and where they are going.”

“Other means of transportation” had the lowest response rate, with only 72% responding while the first three were all in the 92-93% range. The answers, however were the most varied, with 6 listing hitchhiking, 5 their own vehicle, 5 family or friends, 3 walking, hiking, bicycling, 3 volunteer drivers but costly, or only if registered and qualified, 3 ferries but with limited schedules, 1 neighbours, 1 boat or plane. One person summed up the area as “You are on your own or reliant on family or the community.” India reported public transportation and Rwanda three wheelers, rickkshaw, autos and scooters but mostly walking.

In answer to the question” What are the barriers (If any) to achieving gender equality faced by women and girls in your rural communities?” lack of transportation received the highest number of responses at 91.4%. Only India, and 4 organizations in Canada did not list lack of transportation out of the 75 respondents. Yet one of those did list lack of transportation in answer to the question concerning the two highest challenges to life in rural communities.

Clearly, the lack of transportation is a glaring problem to be addressed in improving the quality of life to those who live in rural communities.

Health Care

This section of the survey investigated how participants would rate access to health services using 4 categories of an ordinal scale: very accessible, accessible, with several challenges in accessibility and inaccessible. After categorizing data under themes associated with health dimensions set by the survey questions, we have crosschecked for co-occurrences and performed a qualitative analysis by ordinal categories and by themes.

There were rather polarized opinions expressed by the 84 respondents, with a large proportion (64/84) considering health services accessible with several challenges and 13/84 claiming these services were accessible while an insignificant proportion reported health services that were either very accessible (3/84) or inaccessible (3/84).

Inaccessible health services were associated with several determinants mainly:

  • Poor transportation infrastructure resulting in long distance traveling in order to access specialist and non-specialist care (paediatrician, psychiatrist, obstetrician/gynecologist, orthopedist).
  • Difficulty finding a family doctor.
  • Difficulty making medical appointments.
  • Long waiting list for consultations and interventions.
  • Inadequacy between available clinical hours (evenings) and bus schedule (days).

Very accessible health services were routine care delivered in medical clinics, community health centres, schools and band office, by family doctors, general practitioners, and to a lesser extent by nurses, midwifes and douhlas. However, regardless of the domain of health studied, these services were hindered by a lack of health professionals available (doctors, social, workers, counsellors, specialists).

Accessible health services were those offered mainly by general practitioners, family physicians and other health professionals. These services were limited to routine care and small interventions; they were offered in community clinics or regional health hubs and usually required travel- ling «in surrounding communities with no medical clinic or hospital there is significant barriers regarding transportation and access».

Challenges in accessibility encompassed several factors related to lack of resources, care delivery, and transportation infrastructures.

First, due to lack of health resources available, it was difficult to get a family doctor, thus, routine care or referral to a specialist. This scarcity of resources has affected the health care system and the community by:

Creating a bottle neck in city hospital emergency rooms: in the absence of health professionals, people tend to travel to the next emergency room to get health care and services.

Increasing the waiting time to see a health professional « go to walk in clinic, you show up first thing in the morning get a number and hope that at some point in the day they will look at your child, if you are lucky».

Exacerbating mental health crisis in an environment with high incidence of mental illness and abuse : «There is no child and youth counsellor skilled to work with children who have been sexually abused or assaulted».

Influencing negatively preventive health: « there is limited access to planned parenthood, or re-productive choice services»

Second, although routine health care was delivered locally it required travelling: «you have to travel extensively to access specialized hospital care. Some women and kids cannot get into the nearest mental health services due to lack of transportation». The closest local clinic was 16 km away; pregnant women must drive 2-3 hours to get to a maternity ward, parents traveled more than 65 km to see a paediatrician; older adults must travel up to 4 hours to see a specialist. Travelling is done through a medical bus twice a week, other wise one needs to drive or get a ride from friends or parents. The volunteer drivers charged money to cover cost of gas, thus “many seniors cannot afford it due to poverty”. Older adults sometimes have to wait up to a week for air ambulance.

Third, geriatric services were limited with insufficient nursing homes and assisted living quarters. Older adults living with families were at risk of abuse «From the elders they state, that they need better care where people come into the home to decrease elder abuse».

Child health was provided mainly by family doctors, general practitioners at medical clinic, walk in clinics, health clinics, at school, at Band office or via tele-health. Travelling was necessary to see specialist or to deal with acute cases in emergency rooms: « Must travel into town or wait at ER if no family Dr. and long waitlist to see any specialist».

Maternal health was reported mainly as the pregnancy period, where future mothers drive to access health services provided by family physicians, public health nurses, nurse practitioners, midwife and douhlas. There were limited female doctors and almost no specialists. Complications were dealt with at Regional hospitals «services exist for basic needs, but must leave town for anything beyond basic as most rural communities do not have access to maternal health therefore requiring women to travel».

Mental health services were very limited, there were no local shelters to take care of women or girls with mental health issues. Mental health services were delivered on psychiatry wards or through regional health authority services with a strong focus on pharmacotherapy. Patients needed to travel in city or nearby community to get consultation or treatments. There were insufficient qualified resources available to manage mental health crisis « most communities do not have access to mental health support, or if they do there are long waitlists and not enough access ».

Chronic and geriatric health services delivery was similar to previous health domains in terms of delivery of health services. Population with chronic diseases having to travel to see specialists were facing the same transportation challenges. In addition, support to pain management was non-existent «there is only a pain group run once a year through Mental Health and Addictions». Home care was not very popular and there was no emphasis on social support.

In summary, rating access to health services seems to be an outcome of poor a transportation infrastructure along with a lack of adequate resources and a deficit in the health services.

Education and the Internet

This section of the survey had 5 questions related to access to child care (which is early years education), cost of child care, opportunities for child care, access to secondary education and access to post secondary education.

In response to whether or not there was access to subsidized child care the answer remains, “not enough”. In Gujarat, India there is an “Aanganwadi” which means a kind of childcare for children ages 9 months to 5 years old. The cost per month for child care in that area of India is $200 Canadian dollars per month. The Canadian organizations report that childcare can cost between $601- $1,300 per month, at an average cost of $65 per day.

On the question of access to higher education, organizations reported that in most cases students had access to online courses, community college for a few programs, otherwise they had to leave their communities to attend university in the urban centres.

It must be noted that access to the internet to participate in online courses is unreliable in rural areas and would seriously compromise a student’s access to education.

Gender Based Violence

Five questions (#17-21) on the survey sought information about gender based violence and the availability of support for those experiencing such violence. 94.5% of the respondents in this survey answered yes to the question “Are there incidents of gender based violence in the community?” 75% of the organizations agreed that there were women’s shelters in their area. Only 26.5% of the organizations answered yes to the question “Is there sufficient support and information in the community for women experiencing violence? Based on these stats, gender-based violence is occurring in rural communities and more support needs to be provided for women who are experiencing it.

Gender Equity

Question #22 on the survey asked about barriers to the achievement of gender equity in rural communities.

Respondents to this question identified lack of economic empowerment as a very significant barrier to the achievement of gender equity with an impressive 90% agreement rate! One might ask “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” because in reality, all the other barriers noted in Question #22 contribute to our knowledge of why so many rural women have not achieved economic power. As an example, lack of transportation (91%) and lack of care services for children and the elderly (84%) are seen as very significant barriers to the achievement of gender equity. If a person is unable to travel to a job/educational institution or leave the house, it is rather difficult to gain economic empowerment.

Reinforcement of traditional gender roles (75.5%), the lack of training/educational services (74%), and the lack of access to health/mental health services (72%), are seen as substantial barriers to the achievement of gender equity in rural areas.

Of less significance, but still seen as important barriers to gender equality are: the culture of self-reliance (64%); lack of access to community services such as employment offices, social services, etc. (60%); lack of access to technology (53.5); and lack of access to information (52.5%).


Overwhelmingly in first place (31) were comments related to community support networks and strong local relationships evidenced by a sense of belonging, closeness to family roots and closer-knit families. This might have a negative connotation however, as some respondents said everybody knows everybody and that can be good and bad! But generally the emphasis was on people helping people, and being able to make a difference in the community because of participation in the networks.

The runner up (16 comments) had to do with the physical environment and its effects – sense of space, fresh air, outdoor recreation opportunities, quieter, slower lifestyle, closeness to nature, greater sense of interdependence, growing one’s own food, hunting and farming.  A corollary perhaps was that some respondents saw rural areas as being safer places to raise children.

Several people (8 comments) mentioned developing self-reliance and opportunities for creative problem-solving. This also included developing “patience” because of time spent waiting! Perhaps also related here was the mention of multi-agency coordination and co-operation in the provision of wraparound services. “Every door is the right door”, was one quote used.

In terms of economic issues, several saw the cost of living and especially housing as being lower than in urban areas but with the caveat that it was still not always affordable. The growth of small family businesses and opportunities for self-employment was counterbalanced by the small size of the community and the predominance of the minimum wage. The geographic locale often determined the kind of work opportunities mentioned – e.g. tourism, arts and crafts, mining, logging, oil and gas from some smaller resource towns in different parts of BC.


The overwhelming challenge was that of transportation – mentioned in some form or other by 33 respondents. The huge distances, the lack of public transportation or its inadequacy, the expense of private travel (flights and or ferries), inaccessibility to services without a car were frequently mentioned. Closely related was the isolation factor mentioned by nine respondents.

Lack of services of various kinds was mentioned over and over – 13 times in general; 12 respondents mentioned the lack of adequate employment services; 13 mentioned the lack of affordable housing – safe, healthy affordable rentals were in short supply and some residents became homeless in the summer in one locality when there was a demand for rentals by visitors who could pay more; six people mentioned lack of health care services and access to medical and other health care specialists; lack of access to educational programs especially post-secondary education opportunities was also mentioned by five respondents.

Poverty was mentioned as a challenge by eight respondents – the cost of living in rural areas especially for food was seen as being more expensive than in the city and lower wages (often the minimum) were a problem. One mentioned the failure of small businesses due to small market size.

Psychological challenges were mentioned several times: outdated attitudes, stigmas, ingrained gender biases, community pressure to not call police when they should be called, stereotyping and gossip were all mentioned as were conditions of colonization and trauma related to residential schools that faced indigenous people. A couple mentioned the difficulty of disclosures of domestic abuse based on gender and racial discrimination.


In 2018 the International Alliance of Women framed areas of concern for women across the globe.  A focus has been put on the challenges of Indigenous women in Canada and their struggle with violence directed toward them.  IAW President, Joanna Manganara states that “because of the weaknesses of the Sustainable Development Goals’ accountability architecture, it is crucial to seek other complementary pathways and tools of accountability. These offer opportunities for women rights’ organizations to influence and inform policy-making and implementation in the long term and to identify systemic failures as well as good practices”.

After careful analysis of the information collected, while it is difficult to rate one challenge higher than the other, the intersectionality of all the issues is quite obvious. Transportation has meaningful impact on the lives of women in rural areas. Access to health services is impacted by poor transport infrastructure along with a deficit in health service organization. Economic empowerment is dependent on a woman’s level of education and her access to technology. Transportation doubles back to affect access to education and gender-based services. Gender based violence often goes unnoticed due to isolation created by geographic location, lack of access to shelters and addiction treatment centres and a justice system that fails women.

The opportunities for rural women on the other hand all relate to quality of life, fresh air, a heightened sense of community and a sense of peace attributed to the connection to nature. It is our hope that the positive benefits of rural life can be enhanced by government policies that prioritize transportation needs, access to education, technology and healthcare in a community sensitive model where human rights are respected.

It is important to highlight that not only government is responsible for ensuring the human rights of Indigenous women but everyday Canadians equally have the burden of correcting the objectification of this demographic of Canadian society.  The Indigenous community is often racialized, therefore removed from mainstream consciousness.  Calling on government to fix the problem and then never engaging an Indigenous woman in meaningful friendship or to give her equal opportunity in civil society organizations is hypocritical.

If we are to achieve sustainable development goal #5, gender equity, we must not only influence policy makers but we are obliged to be personally committed as women’s rights defenders to cross the tracks, bridge or road to meet our sisters where they are.

Finally, I would like to thank the service organizations that responded to the survey and the team that helped to analyze the data; Valerie Hume, Audrey Thomas, Nancy Mayberry Ph.D., Gillian Brown and Dr. Saode Savary. This is the beginning of a long awaited dialogue on the issues rural women and girls face globally and ensuring that we stay focused on achieving the sustainable development goals to ensure the absence of violence against women and girls in our society.