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Canada has acknowledged its genocide of Indigenous women.

When will the U.S. follow suit?

Canada has acknowledged its genocide of Indigenous women.

After a two-plus year inquiry, Canada has acknowledged that its epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women amounts to genocide.

In 2016, the Canadian government launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) to examine the disproportionate number of Indigenous women who have been killed or have disappeared in Canada. On June 3, 2019, The inquiry commissioners presented their final report—1,200 pages filled with stories and evidence showing that "persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause" of this epidemic.

Chief commissioner Marion Buller of the Mistawasis First Nation didn't mince words as she presented the findings to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Despite their different circumstances and backgrounds, all of the missing and murdered are connected by economic, social and political marginalization, racism, and misogyny woven into the fabric of Canadian society," explained Buller. "The hard truth is that we live in a country whose laws and institutions perpetuate violations of fundamental rights, amounting to a genocide against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people."

Trudeau acknowledged the report's full findings at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver, B.C. the following day. "We recognized the need for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and we have commissioners who came back with findings of fact and with calls to action," he said. "We thank them for their work, we applaud their work, and we accept their findings—including that what happened amounts to genocide."

The report includes 231 Calls to Justice directed at governments at all levels, as well as institutions, organizations, and everyday Canadians. Commissioner Buller says these action calls are not mere recommendations, but "legal imperatives." How effectively and expediently those calls to justice are implemented remains to be seen.

While arguably a step in the right direction, the Inquiry has been beleaguered by disagreements about approaches and distrust from some Indigenous communities.

From its outset, the public inquiry faced challenges. One of the original five commissioners resigned over disagreements over how the inquiry would be conducted. Some Indigenous communities did not feel adequately represented by the commission, and some families complained that their calls to the commission to share their stories went unanswered. The Native Women's Association of Canada issued periodic report cards on which commitments of the commission were being met and which weren't, and each report card was a mixed bag.

Conducting an inquiry commissioned by a colonial government about a deeply painful indigenous reality was never going to be an easy task. The process opened wounds and recalled heinous historic oppression for many. At the same time, having an official record and recognition of the lived reality of Indigenous people is a historic step. It's what comes next that is the question.

"The report has been triggering for many, as have the reactions to it," says Alison Tedford, an Indigenous woman from the Kwakiutl nation who lives in B.C. "There are deep seated feelings that come with these truths and reactions will vary widely because of the diversity of experiences represented. It will take a great many voices to talk this through."

"What resonated for me was the witness concerns about the failure to implement existing recommendations," Tedford told Upworthy, "and how that represents a lack of political will for change. This history of inaction makes it difficult to hold hope that these calls to justice will be implemented either and that is an uncomfortable feeling to have as an Indigenous woman, that those who could contribute to a safer today and tomorrow for you and your family might choose not to, even as they acknowledge this is genocide. There has been an erosion of trust."

Other Indigenous women have expressed similar apprehension about the ultimate outcome of the Inquiry. Indigenous writer and teacher Andrea Landry wrote in a Chatelaine op-ed, "The fact that the recommendations made within the inquiry are not legally enforceable, nor legally binding, goes hand in hand with the reconciliation agenda of the government today; a facade with limited space for permanent social change for Indigenous peoples. It can also be seen as the government using the emotional labour of the families involved that will, in the end, maintain colonial supremacy and the continued exploitation of the land and the bodies of Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA peoples."

The enormity of the report and the sweeping calls to justice speak to the vastness of the issue, as well as what it will take to make real movement forward.

"Our collective history and present reality of trauma is laid bare in this multitude of words," says Tedford. "It is noted there is a role for everyone. Oppression of this magnitude took an immense amount of collaboration and an equal force of sheer will and determination to make this a safe place at last will be needed to effect meaningful change, in my opinion."

"There are calls to justice not just to government agencies, health care providers, educators but also to everyday Canadians. There are ways each person can contribute to the safety and security of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLBGTQQIA people and that's empowering. Immediate, dramatic, paradigm shift—these words are used to describe the urgency and scale of required changes. It will be a challenge, and I hope Canada is up for it."

What does all of this mean for the U.S., which has a similar colonial history and a MMIW movement of its own?

Though Canada is by no means perfect, there's a lot the U.S. could learn from our northern neighbors when it comes to acknowledging Native communities and the impact colonialism has had—and continues to have—on Indigenous communities.

I was struck by how each session at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver began with an acknowledgment that we were meeting on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded lands of the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, and Squamish Nations people. Then I learned that such land acknowledgments are common in B.C. I've maybe seen that done once in the U.S., and only at a small event. Land acknowledgment is not a huge thing, but it's something. (There's a Native Land App you can use to see whose ancestral lands you're on at any given time.)

Indigenous voices in the U.S. have been speaking out about the MMIW epidemic in our country for years, and it's still unknown to many. We have had no national inquiry commissioned, and it's hard to imagine one coming during the current administration. However, there are a couple of legislative initiatives addressing MMIW that we as citizens can lean on our congressional representatives to support.

The first is Savanna's Act, a bill that bolsters the data tracking of missing and murdered Native Americans, standardizes law enforcement and justice protocols, and requires the Department of Justice to provide training and technical assistance to tribes and law enforcement to implement new protocols.

The second is the Not Invisible Act of 2019, which would increase intergovernmental coordination to identify and combat violent crime on native lands and against native peoples.



Further, we can follow grassroots initiatives like the Red Ribbon Alert Project, which offers an alert system for when a Native American woman goes missing, and perhaps most importantly, educate ourselves on issues Indigenous communities face and the role our institutions and governments play in those issues. We need to understand how the oil, gas, and other extraction industries affect human trafficking in Native American communities, for example.

Historically, our nation has much to atone for, but there are also immediate actions we can take to help eliminate an issue Indigenous women and girls are facing right here, right now.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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