LIVING

Indigenous Women Shouldn't Have To Live In Fear. But They Do

03/21/2017 09:50 EDT | Updated 03/21/2017 09:58 EDT

"Indigenous women of all ages [don't] want to walk home alone from work or school."

When Tasha Hubbard, an award-wining documentary filmmaker from the Peepeekisis First Nation and an assistant professor in the English department at the University of Saskatchewan, moved back to Saskatoon after years away, it was this revelation that inspired her to turn her lens to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.

The result was the short film "7 Minutes," which screened last October at the ImagineNATIVE Film Festival in Toronto, and recreates a real incident when an indigenous student at her university was stalked by a man during her seven-minute walk home.

mmiw A still from the short film '7 Minutes' showing indigenous student Marie being followed and thinking "Maybe one of these times it's going to be worse for me." (Tasha Hubbard)

"I wanted to show that their class doesn't matter, what people do doesn't matter. It's that indigenous women as a whole are targeted," Hubbard says. "It's a tough space to have to occupy all the time."

Hubbard is also one of the thousands of indigenous children who were taken away from their parents and given to primarily white middle-class families as part of what became known as the Sixties Scoop, a topic she's examining in her upcoming NFB doc "Birth of a Family."

"I wanted to show that their class doesn't matter, what people do doesn't matter. It's that indigenous women as a whole are targeted."

"It's about a family of Sixties Scoop siblings who found each other in their fifties and decided to live together as a family for the first time," she says. "There has been a couple people I've shown it to that are like, 'Is this real? That kids were taken from their families in the '60s?'"

And we're like, "Yep. Real."

Hubbard sat down with the Huffington Post Canada to discuss the numerous issues confronting indigenous women, from the upcoming MMIW inquiry to mental health and "colonial patriarchy."

tasha hubbard Tasha Hubbard is a documentary filmmaker and assistant professor (Tasha Hubbard)

The issue of missing and murdered indigenous women has become more known. But is it also getting worse?

It's always been around. There are historic cases that go back decades. It's just now reaching a sense where it's permeating Canadians awareness. Is it getting worse? It seems to be. But I wonder if it's that the media is covering it more.

There is a shift happening where for many years it wasn't believed. The general public would discredit or minimize, and I think social media has had a huge impact in people understanding how widespread the issue is.

Was there a point in your life where you realized that walking even a short distance you had to be on guard?

Yeah, in university when I was in my late teens. In general women understand that there are risks, and in some ways with the rise of misogyny in the political arena, especially south of the border, it's given permission to certain groups of people.

All women have that sense, but I definitely can remember being called a squaw and a man assuming that he had access to me, to my body, to my hair.

That was another layer in terms of the colonial imagination and the space that indigenous women occupy in that imagination.

How does this affect mental health?

Indigenous women carry a lot of weight -- of the past, of fear. So the key is how do we live full, happy lives? It's the big question. You don't want to be burdened. You don't want to have all of that weight. You don't want to live in fear. Yes, you have to be aware. But you also don't want it to stop you from doing the things in this world that you want to do.

That's why we wanted to end the film with yes, this happens and she's still going to carry on and aspire and endure. But that shouldn't have to be a weight she carries.

annie pootoogook death An Ottawa police officer pleaded guilty after posting dismissive and racist online comments about the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook, pictured in the poster held by her cousin during a Parliament Hill rally for MMIW. (CP)

What role do the police play in what's been going on?

They have a lot to answer for on the issue around missing and murdered women. [There is] story after story of families going for help and the police minimizing [it]. There was a young woman who appeared in a film of mine years ago who went missing — she had a family, was a student — and it took the police almost a year to take it seriously as a case. So they've got that to answer for.

There's been some changes, absolutely. But it's also around attitudes and how police interact with indigenous people. There's no checking of assumptions and biases, that hasn't changed. Police look after their own. That's part of the issue. There isn't accountability within the police force a lot of times to call out this behaviour.

'Absolutely there is the backlash in the comments when that happens because we're supposed to be quiet. We're supposed to be silent."

It's interesting now that more and more indigenous people are pushing back and speaking out. Absolutely there is the backlash when that happens because we're supposed to be quiet. We're supposed to be silent.

What are your thoughts on the MMIW inquiry?

What can happen with inquiries is it can let government off the hook in some way, it can let police agencies off the hook, because it's "Oh, well there's an inquiry." I think the work is necessary. I think it brings a level of awareness that needs to happen. I hope that in general Canadians educate themselves.

But we've also had a lot of inquiries around indigenous people in the past. Who's read the RCAP [Royal Comission on Aboriginal Peoples]? Who's actually sat down and read the TRC recommendations?

There's got to be a level of engagement that happens.

indigenous women canada Residential school survivor Madeleine Basile hugs Justice Murray Sinclair after speaking during the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report in Ottawa, Canada, December 15, 2015. (Reuters)

What's your take on the Trudeau government?

It's tough when your whole entire system of governance is based on the subjugation and erasure of indigenous people. I struggle with that. There are individuals with good intentions. Who those are, I'm not sure. They're out there. But when the entire state is based on injustice, how much power can they have?

Half of the kids in the foster care system are indigenous. How did we get to that situation and how do we like fix it? People have been saying it's like the Sixties Scoop all over again.

It's the destruction of the family, and that's been a policy. Even when we do go back to history, a lot of times the narrative is stopping at residential schools and not seeing it further than that, not looking at the trauma of epidemics, and land removal and the reserves system. All of those things interrupted complex and functioning systems of kinship.

That's how we got here.

"We're really struggling to not just overcome racism but there's also patriarchy."

How do indigenous women's experiences differ from what people perceive as indigenous history as a whole?

It's something as simple as names. The men's names are recorded; the women's names are not. So much of those stories and history [are lost] because of not just residential school but other systems like the Indian Agent structure and pass system, how Indian Affairs has worked with people.

I think we're really struggling to not just overcome racism but there's also patriarchy. It's a very colonial system of patriarchy that's been adopted in our communities. We're in a period of recovery. What are women's roles? What are their stories? What are their names?

The work I want to do is thinking about what are the voices that we need to hear and reestablishing a balance. It's changing but I think that's part of the responsibility of me as a filmmaker, as a creator, or any of us, to contribute to that rebalancing in different ways.

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