murdered indigenous women

"A Pickpocket Looks at a Saint...

..and all he sees are his pockets." Something I read years ago, which has stuck with me. I took a look at Vancouver recently, trying to see it as my visitor might, and what struck me was the abundance of aboriginal art imagery. Travellers arriving at the international terminal at Vancouver Airport immediately encounter totems standing near pools of water that then cascade over stones. Among the major works by First Nations artists are the Musqueam Welcome Figures and Bill Reid's fabulous piece, Spirit of Haida Gwai, The Jade Canoe.
Bill Reid's Spirit of Haida Gwai, The Jade Canoe, at YVR

In the great hall of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia totems stand almost as tall as the old growth trees from which they were carved, some them well over a century ago. There's a hushed quality about those who walk among them. It feels like a sacred place. Stanley Park too has a totem pole site, the most visited tourist attraction in Vancouver, apparently. Nine totems there, all replacements for originals from the northwest and lower coast villages where they originated in the 1920's.
Museum of Anthropology, U.B.C.

Characteristic northwest coast aboriginal designs show up in store windows, on banners, on brochures, on posters. Granville Island - with its huge public market, several theatres and the Emily Carr College of Art - has more than one shop featuring First Nations art. Most of the general, usually higher-end gift stores do too. In one wall-sized glass case I admired the sculptures worked by Inuit carvers. The elegant beak of a long-necked bird emerged from the tusk of a sea lion, visible transformation. Then there's the opposite end, i.e. familiar depictions of ravens and whales printed on mass produced t-shirts, and totem poles made of plastic in Gastown souvenir shops.

While First Nations people struggle back from a colonial mentality that tried to destroy them, we rely on their culture to help form our regional identity and their support to protect the west coast environment. As one advocate for an environmental organization told me, "We can't go ahead with anything unless the First Nations are on our side." Although he wasn't talking about the pipelines threatening to bring oil to the pristine northern coastline, without First Nations support, those pipelines aren't going to happen.

So ironic. We may appreciate the cultural distinctiveness and the environmental values of the First Nations, but there's still such a long way to go before the brutal effects of colonialism are reversed. This was reaffirmed earlier in the year when the RCMP reported that 1,017 women and girls identified as Indigenous were murdered between 1980 and 2012—a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada. What's more, as of November 2013, at least 105 Indigenous women and girls remained missing under suspicious circumstances or for undetermined reasons.

Despite the beauty I saw in Vancouver, we have not yet moved past the time when a predator looks at an aboriginal woman and sees prey.