true crime

Vanished: The place where thousands of women and girls go missing without a trace.

There are moments in life that forever change the trajectory of one’s path, passion and life commitment.

For me, that moment arrived in April 1995 in my home community of Sagkeeng First Nation, as I stood over the casket of my beautiful, tragically pitiful, childlike mother – dead of a heroin overdose at the age of 42 after years of violent physical and sexual abuse.

In that moment, I came to fully understand and appreciate the inherent danger living as an Indigenous woman or girl in Canada with a simple revelation: my mother had no chance.

There’s a longstanding history and reality many Canadians fail to see or recognise in respect of Indigenous women and girls’ space and place.

Canada’s colonial history includes strategically, methodically and tragically racialising and sexually objectifying Indigenous women and girls’ bodies, minds and spirits, as a means of purposefully oppressing Indigenous Peoples and territories.

This, of course, is no different than the colonial project carried out across the globe, where even today, imperialism’s patriarchy seeks conquest through gendered, less-than narratives or social constructions, and through the rape, isolation, dislocation and murder of women and girls.

Canada missing women
Nahanni Fontaine's mother, Tina (pictured) died at 42 after a lifetime of drug and sexual abuse. Image: Supplied.

Early settlers, explorers and missionaries intent on "settling" Indigenous territories (erroneously thought to be void of social, cultural, political and economic enterprise) understood that the first point of conquest rested on the subjugation of women's equitable power and force within the collective Nation, community and family.


Seen through their own racialised, gendered, ethnocentric lens, Indigenous women and girls facilitated a deeply unknown and uncomfortable space within the recesses of male explorers' fear of the feminine and of the "savage" Other.

Fear manifests itself within the unhealthy, irrational and reactive – situating the Other within the confines of "less-than", to justify offensive behaviours in executing colonisation.

Nahanni Fontaine
"Canada's colonial history includes strategically, methodically and tragically sexually objectifying Indigenous women and girls". Image: Supplied.

Indigenous women and girls' place and space within the Nation, community and family as sacred and equal began to slowly feel the assault of fear-reactive narratives, to that of whore, slave, drudge, squaw.

This social construction created the palliated space in which violence was not only condoned and accepted but rendered a 'natural' state of Indigenous Peoples.

It created the space where upwards of 1200 (to be clear, an underestimated number) Indigenous women and girls are stolen and murdered while they walk down the street or sleep in their bed.

Listen: Daniel Morcombe went missing when he went to buy Christmas presents for his family in 2003. This is how they caught his killer. Post continues after audio. 


For one couple, Bernice and Wilfred Catcheway, it has been more than nine years that they have been searching for their daughter Jennifer.

“We’ve always believed that somebody knows something, we’ve always said that. Women, girls, they don’t just go missing. Somebody stole them from us”, Bernice says.

It cements a space where no Indigenous woman and girl is safe.

Canada missing women
Upwards of 1,200 Indigenous women and girls are stolen and murdered while they walk down the street or sleep in their bed. Image: Supplied.

For where else does one take out patriarchy's frustrated attempts at guiltless domination than on the very bodies standing in total rebellion to the ridiculousness of such pursuits?

This is where the fight for Indigenous women and girls' space and place occurs each and every day in deconstructing the systemic justifying narratives that shifts responsibility onto those most marginalised, vulnerable and disenfranchised.

Indigenous women and girls are blamed and thought to invite physical and sexual violence because they 'put themselves at risk' or are thought to 'like' a sexually exploited, prostituted lifestyle.

Women are not meant to discuss the uncomfortable truth of violence disrupting the constructed and projected norms in the female constitution. Women and girls are encouraged to sidestep, even protect, patriarchy – certainly not situate its culpability within systems of oppression.


We are encouraged, on a myriad of fronts and by a variety of means, to accept our fate lest we be called out and trolled as angry, militant, manipulative, vengeful, stupid bitches.

The reality is nothing has ever been given or kindly lavished on Indigenous women – or women in general – by patriarchy. Ever.

Every gain has been won by commanding our space and excising our rights.

Nahanni Fontaine
No Indigenous women and girl is safe, writes First Nations politician Nahanni Fontaine. Image: Supplied.

I unapologetically and wholly reject patriarchy's tolerated, accepted response. Instead, our fight and struggle continues without guilt, shame or apologies.

When I reflect upon my mother's life evinced in her final moments, it leaves me offended, hurt and enraged at the way Indigenous women and girls' lives are rendered, confined and ultimately taken.

When violence against Indigenous women and girls – against all women and girls – ceases to exist, that is when we can rest. Until then, I am just one small part of the collective whole of Indigenous women and girls' strength, courage and sacred love, bound together in struggle.

Watch the full report, Vanished: Canada's Missing Women, on Dateline, Tuesday 21 November at 9.30pm on SBS.

In 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

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