Canada’s Lost Women

Reviewed by Marcia Nardi

In her book Violence Against Indigenous Women: Literature, Activism, Resistance, Allison Hargreaves gives a voice to several missing Indigenous women who had theirs stripped away. Hargreaves, a professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus in the Department of Critical Studies, self-identifies as an “allied settler scholar.” Her book, which she started as a doctoral thesis, is split into six sections, with an informative introduction, four chapters, each with a different focus on texts that discuss violence against Indigenous women and the issue of gendered colonial violence, and a conclusion. Each chapter begins with information about a present-day awareness-raising campaign; she then goes into detail about the opportunities and restrictions of these initiatives through the lens of various Indigenous literary works. Hargreaves
specifically uses the voices of female filmmakers, poets, writers, and storytellers to illustrate “gendered experiences of colonization and resistance.” She admits that while there may be many qualified male Indigenous writers who could contribute to this issue, she wants to provide female Indigenous authors with a platform as they have been silenced in the past. Hargreaves argues that her book “is concerned with the social issue of violence against Indigenous women in Canada, and the politics of literary, policy, and activist forms of resistance.” She separates her argument into three parts embedded within all six chapters: violence is systemic and colonial in nature, the significance of the issue of representation, and the importance of illuminating female Indigenous writers’ voices and thoughts on colonial, gendered violence.

Hargreaves outlines that not only is the inaction towards murdered and missing Indigenous women (MMIW) problematic, but that government intervention is equally as harmful as it re-establishes the “colonial relations of power.” Instead, she suggests that we should look towards Indigenous models of knowing, as represented in literature, as “modes of research, remembrance, and reclamation.” Further, Hargreaves attempts to complicate the thought that the issue of MMIW is due to the fact that the stories are not publicized in the media. While this is definitely an issue, her book cautions that increased visibility will not exclusively solve this ongoing concern. She reveals the deeper layers of colonial, gendered violence as systemic in nature, and writes that it should not be the colonial system that established this violence that fixes it; rather, the remedy should come from the Indigenous peoples themselves and their ways of knowing. Instead of just increasing Indigenous peoples’ visibility, there needs to be “Indigenous solutions to the problems continued colonialism creates.” As a result of this, Hargreaves uses the voices of female Indigenous authors to discuss the relationship between “violence and representation, to explore literary contributions to anti-violence debate, and to foreground the work of Indigenous women writers in these conversations.” She reads texts written by Indigenous women within the context in which they were written: a system with ongoing colonial violence and resistance.

Her analysis focuses on modern-day activism surrounding MMIW. One of her chapters focuses on the 2010 public commission of inquiry into the MMIW and she uses Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh’s documentary film, Finding Dawn, as an opposition to this government inquiry. Another chapter critiques the “Sisters in Spirit” campaign launched in 2004, which Hargreaves states was to “‘raise awareness’ and to ‘build political will to address this crisis.’” Hargreaves suggests that while there may be problematic issues with this oversimplified endeavor, poetry which explores themes of remembrance, such as Marilyn Dumont’s poem “Helen Betty Osborne,” can raise awareness and oppose violence in a much more impactful way. Her structure of presenting a social activist movement and a female literary response or critique of this movement is effective as it places agency back in the hands of Indigenous women and the gendered, colonial violence that their people have experienced.

This title is aimed towards an academic audience interested in Indigenous literature, colonialism, and the ongoing discussion of MMIW in Canada. Hargreaves’ extensive research is evident as she integrates the works of several revered Indigenous scholars. The introductory chapter provides important information about the history of colonialism in Canada, how Indigenous women have been targeted by this gendered colonialism, and recent activist movements; while the general public might find this discussion useful and interesting, this book’s accessibility to an everyday reader may be limited due to some dense specialist language that is sometimes difficult to follow.  Overall, this book is a highly focused and important contribution to the research being done on the MMIW in Canada.

This review “Canada’s Lost Women” originally appeared in Lost and Found Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 236 (2018): 154-155.

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