Violence, especially towards women and children in Indigenous families, continues to be a significant issue and is being addressed at the International Network of Indigenous Health Knowledge and Development at The University of Queensland.
Dr Erana Cooper, from the University of Auckland, says that Aotearoa/New Zealand’s violent history plays a significant role in the prevalence of family violence.
“There is a complexity of what happens to lots of Maori whanau (families) not present for other families–there’s that history of violence, and many families experienced intergenerational loss, marginalization, disposition and disconnection from their own culture,” said Dr Cooper.
A variety of stressors that stem from intergenerational displacement can lead to substance abuse and ultimately violence in the home.
“Lower social economic status, less opportunities, more poverty, unemployment, lower levels of education, systemic racism, the way Maori are being treated is still terrible, and all these types of things contribute to this experience of contemporary vulnerability for whanau.
“There’s more chance to go on and be violent if you witnessed violence as a child, and obviously not all will go on to be violent, but some do learn it’s a way of coping with conflict when they feel angry and they learn that it’s acceptable.”
Dr Charlotte Reading, from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, says ‘social violence’ is putting Indigenous Canadian women at risk of interpersonal violence.
“Aboriginal women suffer from a form of social violence, which is pervasive,” Dr Reading said.
“I call it social violence, because it is social environments that do them harm and put them at risk for other environments that are harmful, like poverty, lack of opportunity for education and policies that limit their opportunities.
“So in Canada we have the Indian Act, which is detrimental in many ways to First Nations and Inuit people’s self-determination and control over their lives.
“The same way overt violence takes control out of someone’s hands, social violence takes control out of nation’s hands, so women and children in communities are most vulnerable to the kinds of harms that occur in those circumstances.
“We need to start recognising that we are not just talking about interpersonal violence, which is the symptom of a larger problem, and recognising what I call racist sexism, the intersecting of oppression for Indigenous women of racism and sexism.”
Gender roles can potentially place women at further risk to domestic abuse according to Dr Cooper.
“Women are seen in certain ways, as less powerful then men in relationships, some men have rigid ideas about women roles and status as less equal,” Dr Cooper said.
“They might not verbalise it but that’s how they are treated, as less powerful and less equal, which entitles men to potentially be more violent to women.”
However, this view of women as less equal to men is a European concept that was forced onto the First Nations people of Canada, says Dr Reading.
“There was a time when women didn’t have subordinate roles in our societies,” Dr Reading said.
“We had a lot of political power, social values were equal to men, we had sexual agency, women and children were safe from sexual assault and exploitation.
“It was the imposition of colonial gender roles, patriarchy that really changed that structure of those families and gender roles where women were seen as sub-ordinate which was new, which was not the case before that.
“With that we saw this forced re-education of Aboriginal people to feel shameful about sex, their bodies and so there was a lot of sexual exploitation and violence towards Aboriginal women in those times, and since because of this racist sexism, racialised misogyny.”
Sharing of Knowledge
The conference has allowed a sharing of ideas among Indigenous delegates about what works in the community to tackle family violence says Dr Cooper.
“I have just been talking with a gentlemen about promoting more and more that idea of working with whole whanau across generations, so not just the mum, dad and children, but grandma, granddad, aunties, uncles and grandchildren,” Dr Cooper said.
“That to me seems like a great thing to be doing, that intergenerational work, but we don’t get funded for that in New Zealand.
“We are constrained by some of the places where we work, if we could work ways around we could do this broader holistic approach to whanau.
“So it’s been cool talking to others and their work in their Indigenous environments, it’s so great, I’m loving it.”
Dr Reading says that she has been able to draw on the strength of other women working in her field to inspire her to keep going.
“We often get tired and a little discouraged because we seem to work very hard to make a difference in the lives of Aboriginal women, yet so little changes because we are up against systems and structure that are very powerful,” Dr Reading said.
“So it’s good for me to talk to other women and be around other colleagues doing similar work and gain some strength and just continue and do the work.”
This article is also available on the INIHKD website, http://inihkd2012.com/?p=563.