Keetsahnak is an anthology of the truth about missing and murdered indigenous women. Through stories of resilience, pain, heart ache, readers will learn the history and initiatives that have come to light as Canada’s silent genocide of indigenous women. Every politician, diplomat, academic, women’s activist and humanitarian needs to read Keetsahnak to fully understand the effects of colonialism and to understand the real violence and destruction connected to missing and murdered Indigenous sisters.
The book is divided into four sections. Each section brings together the truth and testimony from over thirty contributing authors. “All our relations,” illustrates the beginning of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit peoples (MMIWG2S). Starting with stories of women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Power of Women Group, a neighbourhood that is known for being one of the poorest in Canada. With a large rate of homelessness, the area also consists of challenges in mental and physical health, substance use, among other issues. The stories reflect this reality.
Beverley Jacobs writes about honouring women, “to honour the lives of the women who are missing, and to honour the lives of women who have been senselessly murdered” (15). Jacobs words display thankfulness for lessons taught by the spirits of the women and her writing ends with her own story of violence and trauma; having a family member go missing and being found murdered. Post-traumatic stress caused Jacobs to leave her family and community, however, after a time of healing she was able to return home and is now able to use her experience in teaching and advocating.
“The Violence of History,” introduces with historical and sociological context. The numbers described are shocking. The plight to get political support was lengthy. Robyn Bourgeois illuminates the lobbying for change along with the negative response of the Harper government throughout his leadership. Bourgeois highlights that—while it might not be a priority on the political radar—missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, is “settler colonial genocide” and “is the direct product of dominant social systems of oppression, such as colonialism, racism, and patriarchy, that hierarchically order the social world and ensure the distribution of privilege and the fruits of citizenship accordingly” (66).
Lateral violence is a theme of “Challenges” depicted by sexual violence and silencing. Alex Wilson writes about the lateral violence that trans and two-spirit-identified people face. Wilson sheds light on the history of sexuality regulated through governmental and church policy and is illustrated by experience. Without a doubt, for anyone who does not understand the challenges of trans and two-spirited people, Wilson will open your eyes to the risks of gender identity.
It’s important to note the contributors of Keetsahnak and the courage they have to share their stories: Kim Anderson, Stella August, Tracy Bear, Christi Belcourt, Robyn Bourgeois, Rita Bouvier, Maria Campbell, Maya Ode’amik Chacaby, Downtown Eastside Power of Women Group, Susan Gingell, Michelle Good, Laura Harjo, Sarah Hunt, Robert Alexander Innes, Beverly Jacobs, Tanya Kappo, Tara Kappo, Lyla Kinoshameg, Helen Knott, Sandra Lamouche, Jo-Anne Lawless, Debra Leo, Kelsey T. Leonard, Ann-Marie Livingston, Brenda Macdougall, Sylvia Maracle, Jenell Navarro, Darlene R. Okemaysim-Sicotte, Pahan Pte San Win, Ramona Reece, Kimberly Robertson, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Beatrice Starr, Madeleine Kétéskwew Dion Stout, Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy & Alex Wilson.
Emerging from the windy path and blockades of politics, Keetsahnak is worth reading to learn about the model of anti-violence that the authors create. A model of anti-violence is presented coming from an Indigenous perspective; this is not like any traditional settler created model and Keetsahnak’s model for anti-violence can benefit an entire country, not just Indigenous women. It’s through the lens and voices of these women who have experienced life in Canada that many readers would never fathom that allows for readers to truly see not only that there is a problem in Canada of missing and murdered indigenous women, but that there is a way forward.
Keetsahnak / Our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters
Edited by Kim Anderson, Maria Campbell & Christi Belcourt
Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Press, 2018, 367 pages
E.D. Woodford is a Métis writer, Indigenous Studies Instructor and author of Wild Hearts, Gypsy Soul, a collection of autoethnographic poems based on poetic inquiry.