“Learning to Understand”

When we first formed the Prevention Network Action Team over a decade ago, we insisted on calling it the Network Action Team on FASD Prevention from a Women’s Health Determinants Perspective.  We did not want FASD prevention to have a sole focus on stopping or reducing alcohol use but instead to have a wider focus on the need for changing systemic as well as personal and interpersonal influences on women’s alcohol use.  One such systemic influence is women’s experience of trauma and violence.

Understanding the impact of trauma and violence on women and gender diverse people’s lives has never been more important as we in Canada read and absorb the findings of Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. We are called upon to understand and act against systemic processes such as racism, sexism and misogyny, and structural oppression related to ongoing and widespread violence against women, social and economic marginalization of Indigenous women, and the multigenerational effects of horrific colonial and patriarchal practices.

The MMIWG report sets out seven principles for change that inform the 231 Calls for Justice needing action across federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments, industries, institutions, health care, child welfare, correctional services, and policing.  Some of these principles we have often discussed and promoted in our work on FASD prevention. They include:

  1. A focus on substantive equality and human and Indigenous rights
  2. A decolonizing approach
  3. The inclusion of families and survivors
  4. Self-determined and Indigenous-led solutions and services
  5. Recognition of distinctions (i.e., the diversity of Indigenous peoples)
  6. Cultural safety
  7. A trauma-informed approach

In addition to the Calls for Justice, several action plans have been created in order to enact change. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has committed to taking leadership and action to end the violence and genocide, and to the full implementation of an Action Plan they have developed for: ending the violence including all forms of race-and gender-based violence, and upholding dignity and justice for Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people in Canada. There are many opportunities within their Action Plan where we who are working on FASD prevention can work together on key actions they have identified.  Here are three examples:

  • Continue ongoing health, policy, research, training and programs to support Indigenous-led health initiatives (page 22)
  • Create and implement awareness building campaigns that will educate the public about MMIWG and the issues and roots of violence (page 38)
  • Monitor media stories and track inaccurate portrayal of Indigenous women (page 41), so that portrayals that perpetuate negative stereotypes of Indigenous women are challenged/stopped and the “curious silence” (page 388 of the MMIWG report) of the media in covering the lives of Indigenous women is addressed.

National and regional Inuit organizations have also developed an action plan. The National Inuit Action Plan was developed by a 10-member Working Group, co-chaired by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The National Inuit Action Plan also identifies a wide range of areas where concrete, timely and measurable positive changes need to be made for Inuit women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people to achieve substantive equality. The image from page 6 of that report illustrates the breadth of the work that needs to be done, how we in FASD prevention can align our actions.

Harriet Visitor, an Indigenous educator and niece of Chanie Wendak, used the expression “learning to understand” on the radio this past week. She describes this as different than simply learning, it involves unlearning, not turning a blind eye, and acting. In the case of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, it involves supporting decolonization and revitalization of Indigenous culture and doing everything in our power to ensure the future is one where Indigenous women can thrive as leaders, teachers and healers, and be acknowledged and honoured for their expertise, agency and wisdom.

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