By Emma Elshaw
Trigger Warning: Please note that this blog contains descriptions of violence and mistreatment in Indigenous communities and the residential school system.
“While policies and laws against the trafficking of people contribute to the prevention of future cases of human trafficking and supports for [survivors], the issue cannot be properly addressed without examining the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and the colonial legacy.”
Last week, we examined the effects of colonization on Indigenous people and communities to give a historical context as to why there is a disproportionate amount of trafficked Indigenous women compared to other groups. Today, we will dig deeper into how the mistreatment and subsequent vulnerabilities of women have created a higher risk of human trafficking in Indigenous communities.
As mentioned last week, Indigenous women were subject to involuntary sterilization not only to control the Indigenous population, but also to test the technique on Indigenous women. Additional trial procedures were tested out on Indigenous women, such as hysterectomy surgeries (which would have resulted in further sterilization of Indigenous women).
Indigenous people were further mistreated by acts of genocide. In further efforts to control Indigenous populations, blankets that were used for patients who had smallpox were given to Indigenous people, who would then use them and contract the infectious disease (Smoke, 2021).
The mistreatment of Indigenous people began once the settlers arrived on Indigenous soil. They began to take and exploit the women and children, forcing them into marriage and domestic servitude. The men were taken for manual labour and to build structures. These are all considered human trafficking, which, by definition, according to Public Safety Canada, is the “recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/ or exercising control, direction or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour.” Even in the earliest days, the settlers did not hesitate to exploit the Indigenous people they met.
Through the treaties, the settlers made promises of a good life, of being able to navigate the world together in peace, love and friendship, with their children having access to education. However, when the residential school system came into existence, it became clear that the primary goal was not education. In this instance, the parents were led to believe their children would receive a good life and good education, which proved to be untrue. Instead, the children were taken away from their families to a place where they were heavily mistreated. Given this history, this may be one reason why Indigenous people are more vulnerable to trafficking: having experienced manipulation in the past, it’s possible they may not be as aware of the dangers it poses.
When the children were at the school, they were treated similarly to animals in a laboratory. Vitamins and medications were tested on the children, as well as the use of the electric chair. In addition, in a manner reminiscent of the treatment of Jews by Nazi soldiers, if the schools were over capacity, they would line them up and shoot them, instead of simply taking them to another school. A recent news article also reported the discovery of a mass grave with the remains of 215 children at a residential school in British Columbia. These Indigenous children at residentials schools were treated as less than human, as were their parents and other Indigenous people outside the school system.
It is clear that Indigenous people were mistreated, exploited and abused right from the time the settlers arrived on Indigenous soil during colonization. Next week, we will take a closer look at how the inflicted mistreatment we have seen has lead to greater vulnerability among Indigenous people, leading to a prevalence of human trafficking in Indigenous communities.
Suzanne Smoke, Fight4Freedom Freedom Fighters Conference, April 24, 2021.