New report examines lives of Indigenous women in the Downtown Eastside

(Left) Harsha Walia co-author of the Red Women Rising Report. Photo by Jennifer Blake.
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Reported by Jennifer Blake.

Two hundred recommendations in a new report on Indigenous women in the Downtown Eastside need to be acted on urgently, according to co-author Harsha Walia.

On Wednesday a conference was held on traditional Coast Salish territory in the Downtown Eastside to release the findings of the Red Women Rising report. The report is based on the experiences of 113 indigenous women and 15 non-Indigenous women in the area.

“It looks at a range of issues impacting Indigenous women,” Walia said. “We’re not only looking at housing, or the opioid crisis, we’re looking at everything.”

Co-author Carol Muree Martin said that it means a lot that in Red Women Rising, women’s stories can be published without any editing or filtering.

“This one belongs to the women,” Martin said.

Martin said society’s attitude towards Indigenous women needs to change. “We’re overly labeled, stereotyped, stigmatized and all pushed into the same corral,” Martin said.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said this launch is very timely, with members of Parliament Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott being ejected from the Liberal caucus the day before.

“There’s always an effort to shush women,” Philip said.

Phillip said this document is unique, being created by the very women who have suffered.

Denesuline and Woodlands Cree Sophie Merasty said that women were respected and honoured in Indigenous nations, but they have been murdered and going missing since colonization.

“It continues to this day,” Merasty said.

Merasty talked about her sister, who was killed in the Downtown Eastside in 1991. The man who pushed her sister out of a window was only given 30 days in a holding cell before being released.

“I don’t call it a justice system,” Merasty said. “It doesn’t work for us.”

Okanagan First Nation Suzanne Kilroy said that a lot of Indigenous people have had to fight since the day they were born, herself included.

“I’ve seen things that women should never have seen,” Kilroy said.

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