Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NWAC and Sisters in Spirit – context not controversy

It continues to baffle me that in some circles, significant action on issues is met with attitude and spin designed to purposely create controversy.  This is certainly the case with APTN’s distorted coverage of the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s position on the recently announced $10 million dealing with the plight of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
NWAC has issued three different news releases on the matter within the last ten days; one applauds the announcement and the other two deals with concerns around the funding.  On the basis of APTN’s coverage around these releases, it would appear that these concerns follow a meeting of the NWAC Board of Directors held after the announcement of the $10 million on October 29, 2010 in downtown Vancouver.
It’s hard to get a clear sense of the real facts around this as the APTN news reports are rife with errors and mistruths.  One thing is clear and needs affirmation:  NWAC’s role in this matter has been pivotal.  Further, it bears noting that NWAC was apprised of the announcement before it was made.  They were on the podium for its introduction, and NWAC’s national office was instrumental in many of the announcement logistics, including choosing the elder who gave the blessing which opened the ceremony.
Another matter needs clarity in the face of APTN’s very skewed coverage:  No one, especially NWAC, “was kept in the dark until the last minute” regarding the announcement.  
Let’s be clear, the efforts of NWAC in undertaking the Sisters in Sprit initiative have delivered impetus that has directly led to the $10 million federal investments that will contribute to means that seek to overcome the tragic toll of missing and murdered Aboriginal women has had on victims’ families and their communities.
NWAC itself spoke with frustration last year at hearings of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights regarding the ongoing call for data before commencing action in the face of issues.  In her testimony to the Committee the NWAC Health Director noted, “You want numbers to be able to do something about (an) issue.  How much is enough?  How many suicides is enough? Is one enough? Is a hundred enough? When do we reach a point where we can actually say that is enough; let us move to action. A really frustrating part of what we do is trying to provide information that the government needs: Give us the picture, help us understand how big this issue is, give us the numbers. It is all around numbers.”
While the issue might have been different, NWAC’s wisdom on the matter still resonates clearly.  Enough of problem definition -- we must move to action.  And that is exactly what the federal government has done in making this announcement.
The fact that NWAC’s position on the funding of measures to deal with missing and murdered Aboriginal women seems to have changed since a meeting of its board of directors speaks more to the organization’s internal politics than to benefits to the community that these investments seeks to deliver.
 In one of its numerous news releases, NWAC asserts that the funding model through Status if Women Canada will fund any future Sisters in Spirit activity “will affect (its) recognition on an international, national and local level.   
Should this be the aim of such investments?  Should organizational profile trump provisions to help people?
NWAC readily deserves significant credit for its past and current efforts in respect of the Sisters in Spirit initiative.  But it is of no justice or comfort to the families of the victims to suggest that anything linked to the announcement of $10 million in action designed to build upon the previous $5 million invested over five years represents unnecessary pain to victims’ families and communities.
This is not only untrue it’s irresponsible to suggest as much.
There has been myriad good works delivered on this matter by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.  I believe that NWAC has a role to play in ongoing policy collaboration around ways and means to improve the safety and socio-economic health of Aboriginal women in Canada.  NWAC has provided invaluable data to aid in overcoming this tragic situation.
Constructive discussions around further collaboration will hopefully yield positive results.  In the final analysis, it’s important to bear in mind that good faith has brought about great progress and investment in these matters thus far.  Let’s hope that such good faith continues to prevail and that coverage around it reflects accuracy and balance.

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