Profile of an Indigenous Woman Serving Time in a Federal Institution

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The Indigenous woman offender is generally 27 years old with a grade nine education and single with two or three children. She has limited education and employment skills and she is usually unemployed at the time of her crime.

Contributing factors that may impact negatively on the life of an Indigenous female include moving to an urban center (isolation and loneliness). Alcoholism and violence in the family home. Lack of familial support and supervision. Lack of resources (financial). Lack of opportunities to become involved in positive interaction with others.

Generally the Indigenous offender has experimented with drugs and alcohol at a young age. Often she has become in conflict with the law as a youth and with lack of intervention continues into the adult system. She is likely to leave school at a young age to associate with friends who are street wise. Her abuse of drugs and alcohol continues to the point where she will become a prostitute to continue her addiction. Under the influence of her associates and a negative lifestyle she commits more serious crimes such as robberies, assaults or murder as she becomes more street wise.

She may leave home because she experienced violence (whether she was abused or she witnessed abuse) and her home life has become unbearable. Or she may live under very rigid conditions that she leaves because she wants to become independent. Or she may be lured away by friends who have a life of drugs, alcohol and partying. She may work the streets because she needs money to live on and she does not have the education, skills and training to get a job. She may be subjected to racism, stereotyping and discrimination because of her race and color. However, her experience on the streets becomes violent as she continues to experience sexual, emotional and physical abuse. She is likely to become involved in an abusive relationship. There are usually children born from this relationship and the social, emotional and economic struggle continues. The cycle of an unhealthy family continues.

According to a 1989 regional study done by the Ontario Native Women's Association, eight out of ten Indigenous women are abused. It is a belief that these findings would likely be similar in other areas of the country. The 1991 Task Force Report "Creating Choices" states that sixty eight percent of the population of federally sentenced women interviewed said that they were physically abused and 54% said that they were sexually abused at some time during their lives. A 1995 Saskatchewan Social Services study found that at least 57% of the women who use shelters for abused families were of Indigenous ancestry even though they represent only 11 percent of the female population.

Some of the contributing factors of violence in Indigenous communities are alcohol and drug addiction, economic problems, learned behavior, residential school effects and loss of culture and traditional values.

A high percentage of Indigenous women who come in conflict with the law are convicted of crimes committed while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. These contributing factors are often related to their history of physical, psychological and emotional abuse where they have not dealt with the effects of this abuse. This harmful way of dealing with the past history of dysfunctional behavior may continue unless these past abuses and effects are dealt with.

Statistics show that in Canada in 1996, close to one-third of Indigenous children under the age of 15 lived with a lone parent. This rate is twice the rate of the general population.

Generally, lone parent families experience a high poverty rate so it is probable that the Indigenous family lives below the poverty line, which could contribute to a risk to offend. However, it should be noted that Indigenous families tend to take care for their parents and grandparents, which creates additional economic stress on the family. Research indicates that 22 percent of Indigenous female seniors live with family compared to only 4 percent of non-Indigenous female seniors. Families are very important in Indigenous families and if a female has the support of her family and community, she will generally do much better in her own life.

Many Indigenous parents did not acquire parenting skills because they lived in residential schools. Prior to 1970, children were sometimes removed from their homes/parents and taken to residential schools operated by religious denominations. Many children experienced psychological, sexual and physical abuse while in the care of these schools. Also these children were not allowed to speak their language or practice their culture and spirituality. They were isolated from their families and communities and many did not return home until they were in their teens.

Residential schools had a negative effect on the whole family, as it provided no opportunity for nurturing and natural bonding. Also, many of the children who attended residential schools did not deal with abuses they encountered at the schools. Furthermore, during the sixties and seventies, many Indigenous children were put into Non-Indigenous homes either through adoption or in foster care. As a result, many of these children also experienced emotional, psychological and sexual abuse. This negative history continues to have an effect on many Indigenous families and communities. The effects will continue for many generations - until communities heal and the traditional parenting role is revived, practiced and retained.

Spiritual, traditional and cultural practices in Indigenous homes and communities are lacking due to the attempts to assimilate Indigenous people into mainstream European society. Many Indigenous families move to urban centers looking for education, employment and better housing, But they often do not fit into the non-Indigenous society and have great difficulty surviving in the urban population. They require resources and services that are accepting, respectful and supportive to assist them in rehabilitation. They require support to determine who they are, accept their culture and traditions and work on their healing in order to overcome drug and alcohol addictions that are often a daily occurrence in their lives. If these needs are met fewer Indigenous people will be in conflict with the law.

Written by Norma Green, 08.29.00. Information used for this paper was acquired through personal observation, review of "Profile of Aboriginal Women in Saskatchewan", "Creating Choices" and "Empowering Our Communities" reports.