**TRIGGER WARNING: Gendered violence, sexual violence, colonialism/colonizaton, abuse**
Many of the strategies to address violence have further strengthened broad systems of colonial power, which are themselves inherently violent. We continue to appeal to the Canadian legal system to address physical violence, calling for more policing or better laws, while knowing this system is set up to oppress, rather than help, us. The same colonial mentality that created the Indian Act to privilege the rights of men over women, and instituted residential schools to break down our family systems, serves as the foundation for the Canadian legal system. Surely we must engage with this powerful system, but appealing to law alone will not stop the violence.
So how do we begin to change norms around gendered violence without reinforcing its roots in colonial power? As we strategize, we must be careful not to reproduce the systems and ideologies that colonialism has introduced. Sexist, racist and homophobic ideas have been internalized at many levels, but colonialism’s stealthy ways make them hard to recognize.
As an example, one consequence of developing broad public awareness about the prevalence of violence against Indigenous women has been the privileging of some women’s voices over others. Moving from Vancouver’s downtown east side to offices in Ottawa and other urban centers across Turtle Island, efforts to name gendered violence have shifted from grassroots discussions to slick poster campaigns. In these moves, certain voices have been left behind, enacting a form of silencing that I believe is in crucial need of reparation. Rather than calling on our sisters in the sex trade to speak for themselves, others are asked to speak on their behalf. We must ask ourselves how colonial values continue to shape whose voices are seen as legitimate, while working to center the voices of the most marginalized women in our communities rather than only those of us with a colonial education.
So colonial violence can be understood as more than just interpersonal abuse – it is inherent in the systems that have shaped how we define ourselves and relate to one another as Indigenous people. It should go without saying that healing from violence requires rebuilding our individual and collective strength rather than reinforcing the power of the state. By centering local Indigenous knowledge in our understandings of leadership, honor, strength and love, we can redefine ‘power’ as well as ‘violence’. This requires relearning our stories and our cultural teaching in order to raise up the girls in our communities and respect them as leaders, mothers, warriors and knowledge keepers.