Trafficking in Indigenous Communities - Part 1: Colonization's Impact on Trafficking in Indigenous Communities
By Emma Elshaw
Pocahontas. Many of us may know the name and some of us may have even seen the Disney movie. However, as is the case with many Disney movies, her story is a romanticized version that creates a more fairy-tale-like story that will appeal to kids. In reality, though, as a young girl taken by a much older man to live in a new world where she was abused and died at a young age (either from illness or possibly by murder), she may have been the first trafficked woman. (Smoke, 2021)
As human trafficking becomes much more prevelant in news articles and media sources, so are the voices that are emerging from minority groups where trafficking is hard-hit. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at some Indigenous history, particularly in terms of colonization, and take a deeper dive into the reasons why trafficking may be more common in Indigenous communities compared to “settler” communities.
Colonization has had an impact on the increased Indigenous presence in human trafficking. When the settlers arrived, they would place their own settlements between close Indigenous communities, creating displacement and a system of disconnection. Treaties were created between settlers and Indigenous people to help these two different communities walk alongside each other in peaceful co-existence, to uphold their values. However, not only were the treaties abused, but so were the Indigenous people. Because of the abuse of these treaties by settlers, indigenous women were often intentionally married off to settler men in order to “dilute” the bloodline, and to slowly eliminate the Indigenous people in their communities. There was an exhaustive and seemingly subtle effort through the treaties to ensure that no child was born in indigenous communities; women were even abused in the form of sterilization to ensure this happened.
Before colonization, women were the backbone of Indigneous communities. However, after colonization, Indigenous society quickly moved from a matrilineal one to a patriarchal one. In addition, because of the treaties, Indigenous women were no longer able to own property on reserves; it belonged to her male partner, but once he died, she became displaced. According to the Indian Act of 1867, which is still in effect today, women became the property of men if they married outside of the Indigenous community. (Smoke, 2021)
Furthermore, Indigenous people were viewed as less than human. Those who were of “mixed blood” lacked a sense of identity: they were not “white”, and therefore didn’t belong in “white” society, but neither were they Indigenous. Along with the discrimination that came with colonization, many Indigenous women, even now, have “less access to social supports and services, putting them at a greater risk of being recruited into human trafficking.”
It is clear that colonization had a great and lasting impact on Indigenous people and communities. Because of the treaties that were imposed and abused, Indigenous people lost many rights and freedoms that every human deserves. This slow and intentional process of causing Indigenous people to become “less than” has led to great vulnerability, particularly among Indigenous women, leading them to be increasingly targeted by traffickers.
Next week, we will continue to look at the mistreatments experienced by Indigenous people at the hands of the settlers, and also dig deeper into how the mistreatment and subsequent vulnerabilities of women have created more prevalence of human trafficking in Indigenous communities.
Suzanne Smoke, Fight4Freedom Freedom Fighters Conference, April 24, 2021.