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In the documentary Canada’s Lost Girls, Stacey Dooley investigates the phenomenon of Canada’s indegenous women going missing at oddly high rates. Canada has long had a problem with the disappearance of indigenous women. The women of the First Nation “are four times more likely to go missing or be murdered than other Canadian women” (Paquin, 2015). This clearly represents an inequality, though the question remains as to what exactly causes it, whether it is a cultural issue, an institutional problem, or something else entirely. Some of the most cited possible causes are the cultural issues of domestic violence on the First Nation reservations and Canada’s former system of Residential Schools, in which “150,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families and interned in boarding schools specially designed in the words of the system’s founder Sir John A MacDonald, to ‘take the Indian out of the child’” (Paquin, 2015), and which were only finally closed in 1996.
The woman behind the film Canada’s Lost Girls, Stacey Dooley, is a television journalist from Britain. Unlike many journalists who come from good backgrounds and received extensive education, Dooley is “a working-class woman who left school with no qualifications” (Hattenstone, 2019). She released this documentary in 2017, through the British Broadcasting Corporation, to look at “Canada’s dark secret where legions of women have gone missing or been murdered without receiving any justice” (Windle, 2017). In this film she explores the issues that led to these disappearances, and the many different opinions held by the residents of the community as to what caused this and what could be done to help.
- Diversity and Power Issues
Canada’s Lost Girls depicts two main types of oppression, that of the indegenous men mistreating indegenous women on the reserves, and that of the Canadian government mistreating the indegenous people as a whole. In the film, Stacey Dooley states that “many reserves across Canada suffer from chronic unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence” and that “that indigenous women accept that domestic violence is an issue on the reserves”(McConnell, 2017). This presents a clear issue in the power dynamic between men and women on the reserves, as it is simply accepted that domestic violence will continue to be a problem on the First Nation’s reserves. However, some would argue that the issue is more complex than merely indegenous men abusing indegenous women, claiming that the issues stem from the brutal Residential Schools forced onto the indegenous people by the Canadian government throughout the 20th century. According to the film “For over a century, indigenous children were taken away from their families by the government and placed in these church-run boarding houses to learn white Christian values” (McConnell 2017). In the film, Steve Courtoreille, a reserve chief and former student of one of these Residential Schools, recalls that “There was a lot of abuse that went on. Physical, mental, spiritual, emotional. Every day to… to be called a savage” (McConnell, 2017). Steve suggests that the trauma and abuse from these schools, forced onto the indegenous people by the Canadian government, are part of what led to the violence and abuse common on the reserves today.
In viewing the film, I was intrigued by the history of Canada’s reserve system. I had learned a bit about the American reserves in my previous schooling, but never really thought about how they might have appeared in Canada.
The earliest form of reserves in Canada came about as early as 1637, when the French missionaries gave plots of land to the Aboriginal people to “encourage Aboriginal peoples to adopt Christianity” (Hanson, n.d.). The modern version of the reserves began with British control and the formation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Settlers from Europe were attempting to move into the land previously occupied by the indigenous people, and “Colonial authorities and some Aboriginal people viewed the creation of reserves as a pragmatic solution to land disputes and conflicts between Aboriginal peoples and settlers” (Hanson, n.d.). Not long after the reserves were first established, the Canadian government began making moves to reduce them in size, passing laws “that enabled the government to expropriate parcels of reserve land without the consent of the band and without providing compensation” (Hanson, n.d.). As of 2011, “ Some 360,600 people lived on reserves in Canada, of which 324,780 claimed some form of aboriginal identity” (McCue and Parrott, 2019).
- International Policy: Agency and Advocacy
Many people blame the problems in and around the reserves that lead to these girls disappearing on the old Canadian Residential School system. These residential schools, the first of which was established in 1831, were “ government-sponsored schools run by churches” that aimed “to educate and convert Indigenous youth and to integrate them into Canadian society” (Miller, 2019). The students living in these schools “lived in substandard conditions and endured physical and emotional abuse” (CBC News, 2016). The last of these schools was finally shut down in 1996, meaning many of the former students are still alive today. As compensation for the trauma and abuse inflicted on them, former attendees of the Residential schools “are eligible for $10,000 for the first year or part of a year they attended school, plus $3,000 for each subsequent year” (CBC News, 2016). As part of the attempt to reconcile what the Residential Schools had done, the Canadian government launched The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which aimed to “guide Canadians through the difficult discovery of the facts behind the residential school system” as well as “lay the foundation for lasting reconciliation across Canada” (Moran, 2017). They published their final report in June 2015, including 94 recommendations for government policies and projects to help reconcile for what was done. In 2015, the Canadian government “began working towards one of the recommendations in December 2015 — a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls” (Moran, 2017).
- Personal/Professional Growth
As an American I tend to think of issues such as racism and systemic oppression purely from an American perspective, and sometimes even as a uniquely American problem. This film helped open my eyes to how this problem can be just as prevalent anywhere else, such as Canada. Some of the things that were said by Donna the cab driver, who said that “They have no self-worth” (McConnell, 2017) or the man who called in to the radio show and said he thought the Residential Schools were necessary, were shocking to me. The realization that these are international problems was one of the major impacts of this documentary on me. There is still a lot that needs to be done worldwide to both reconcile these historical atrocities and to create a better world for us to live in now.
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