By: Emma Elshaw
Due to the hundreds of years of exploitation that has been in existence since the time the settlers stepped foot on Indigenous soil, multiple layers of vulnerability have accumulated within Indigenous communities. Where there is vulnerability, traffickers step in to begin manipulating and trafficking individuals. In the last two weeks, we have seen how the history of colonization has led to the vulnerability and mistreatment of Indigenous people, which has led to an increase in trafficking of Indigenous people.
There has been a history of viewing the Indigenous person as “less than” due to colonization and the abuse of the Indian Act of 1867. Because of this long history, even if there is a current report of abuse, the non-Indigenous person and the people they know may say that “they would never do that”, and unfortunately, they are often believed over the Indigenous person and the report is filed away and forgotten. Annette Sikka in Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada says that “the types of trafficking to which [Indigenous] women and girls are subject because they are [Indigenous] are the types associated with discrimination, racism, poverty and breakdown of community.”
This attitude demonstrates that there can be reports of human trafficking of an Indigenous person that get ignored, further increasing the rate of trafficking among Indigenous people. Traffickers will begin to understand that they can get away with it, and they will increase their efforts within one community of people.
In a CBC news article from 2019, a survivor of human trafficking notes that Indigenous women and girls are especially at risk of trafficking, citing a “history of sexual exploitation, poverty, lack of awareness or acknowledgment of sexual exploitation and a legacy of colonization as trafficking risk factors.” This same article notes that there is indeed a connection between sexual exploitation and the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Things like precarious housing, poor living conditions, unemployment, low income, a lack of access to social and economic resources and programs, family violence, and the impacts of colonization are all linked to a high rate of recruitment for trafficking among indigenous communities.
So, just how prevalent is trafficking among Indigenous communities compared to other groups? “In 2010, 17.2 million females accounted for 50.4% of the total population.” There are 718,500 Indigenous women in Canada, meaning that Indigenous women make up 4% of the Canadian female population. Although they represent a small percentage of the Candian female population, Indigenous women comprise approximately 50% of trafficked women. This is highly disproportionate and needs to change. But how? A crucial first step would be to include the voices of Indigenous people, particularly women, at the table when solutions are sought, and policies and services are created (Smoke, 2021).
Considering all the information we have learned from Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series, how can we support and empower Indigenous people? We can begin by treating every human as that - human. Befriend them as you might anyone else, and invite them to enjoy a meal or a coffee with you. In doing so, keep in mind that many Indigenous people are learning and re-learning their own history and culture, having been traumatized by human trafficking and abuse. Be sure not to seek them out only to have them as your teacher. Let’s remember to approach any conversation with ears to hear, listening to learn and not to respond. Provide a space for conversation, for someone to share their story, and seek clarification by asking questions. Apart from seeking information to learn about the experiences of Indigenous people, it would be important to look inward, to realize one’s own bias and investigate how one might be a factor in the continuing oppression of Indigenous people.
Above all, speak up and talk about it. The only way to see an end to human trafficking is for more people to know about its reality today; the more people who know, the more people who can speak up and take a stand against it. Let’s work together!
Suzanne Smoke, Fight4Freedom Freedom Fighters Conference, April 24, 2021.