The alleged serial killer in Winnipeg, accused of murdering four First Nations women, targeted Indigenous women in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The National Indigenous Housing Network, the Women’s National Housing & Homelessness Network, and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association demand that a national state of emergency be declared with respect to the failure to eliminate homelessness amongst Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, and gender-diverse people across Canada. They call for the immediate provision of adequate housing for all Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, and gender-diverse people who continue to face colonial violence and cultural genocide in Canada and across Turtle Island.
In recent weeks, staggering violence against Indigenous women has been revealed in Winnipeg, with evidence that an alleged serial killer has murdered four First Nations women, targeted because they frequented homeless shelters. The serial killer was alleged to have frequented N’Dinawemak, a 24/7 warming space and shelter in Winnipeg, and would go to similar locations to prey on marginalized women. In the aftermath, four families and their communities are dealing with unimaginable grief, losing their loved ones because they did not have a safe place to call home.
The loss of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois, and a fourth unidentified woman who has been given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, could have been prevented if these women had adequate support and safe housing. This is an indictment of Canada’s failure to protect the right to housing and the right to life for Indigenous women, and the allowance of white supremacy, colonial violence, and racism against Indigenous Peoples to propagate in Canada.
The National Crisis of Homelessness amongst Women, Two-Spirit, & Gender-Diverse People
Gender-based violence is inseparable from our failure to build a housing system that ensures access to safe, affordable, and adequate housing for all. As articulated in our recent Human Rights Claims submitted to the Federal Housing Advocate, women disproportionately live in core housing need and poverty, bear the burden of childcare despite lower incomes, and often face violence when unable to secure affordable housing. Despite this, there are fewer women-specific emergency shelter beds. Across the system there are 68% dedicated to men or co-ed, compared to 13% dedicated to women, according to the WNHHN’s Literature Review: The State of Women’s Housing Need & Homelessness in Canada.
With few housing options and overwhelmed emergency shelters, many women and gender-diverse people rely on informal networks and numerous survival strategies to meet their basic needs, with many avoiding co-ed shelters because of experiences of violence within them, or due to stigma and judgement. It is well-documented that women in dire housing situations are often forced into dangerous situations in order to access a warm place to stay, even if it’s offered by someone they do not know well. In some cases this costs them their lives.
Indigenous women, in particular, are overrepresented amongst women who are homeless, and are 15 times more likely to use a homeless shelter than non-Indigenous women. Colonization and ongoing cultural genocide are the foundation of disproportionate housing need amongst Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, and gender-diverse people, as well as the violence they face. The 2019 Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls highlights that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other group of women in Canada and are 16 times more likely to be murdered or missing than white women. The Report mentions the need for safe and secure housing more than 400 times.
A lack of Indigenous-led housing programs leads to unsafe living conditions, inadequate housing, unaffordability, and child apprehension. And in this Winnipeg case, like many others documented across Canada, a man allegedly driven by white supremacist motives was able to take advantage of this tenuous situation to violently end the lives of these First Nations women who were failed by the Canadian housing system.
Statement from the Co-Chairs of the National Indigenous Housing Network
The mother is the original home, everything starts with us – we are the life givers. We are the caretakers of our communities and the environment around us and should be treated with the utmost respect. This means affording the ability to live in safe, secure environments in a place we can truly call home, especially when situated on our ancestral homelands. The importance of having a home is a high priority for Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender diverse people because they are at higher risk of harm. Cambria Harris, daughter of the late Morgan Harris, who was one of the four Indigenous women found murdered in the Winnipeg serial killings, expressed concern that her mother died without a home when demanding that the RCMP in Winnipeg search the landfill for her remains. Women and girls are more vulnerable than ever when they are on the street and can be preyed upon by predators like Jeremy Skibikci. We honour Buffalo Woman and hold her up. Buffalo women could be any one of us. We must protect our herd. Colonization has disrupted our way of living and being. Now we have chosen to carry the responsibility of working tirelessly towards solutions, because as Indigenous Peoples we are the only ones who know how to set things right. The protection of our women and girls starts at home. It is not enough to say that we honour our women. We must show this honour in action.
Demand for Action
The National Indigenous Housing Network, the Women’s National Housing & Homelessness Network, and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association demand that a national state of emergency be declared with respect to the failure to eliminate homelessness amongst Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, and gender-diverse people across Canada. We demand the urgent implementation of measures to immediately provide access to adequate housing to all Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, and gender-diverse people who are unhoused, in recognition of the profound threats to life they experience on the streets.
The National Indigenous Housing Network (NIHN)
The Women’s National Housing & Homelessness Network (WNHHN)
Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA)