Mexico and Canada- two countries unified by their general history of settler-colonialism and violence towards Indigenous peoples- house an epidemic of violence towards Indigenous women that include “rape, forced disappearance, human trafficking, and murder” as frequent manifestations of violence (Marceau et al.). In both countries, these crimes often go on with impunity and without investigation (Bourgeois; Shelly), and to scholar Shelly, this is “proof that the justice system privileges a segment of society, and Indigenous women are… at the bottom of the social stratification”. Bourgeois and Shelly argue that neither Canada nor Mexico, respectively, will be able to eliminate violence towards Indigenous women until the larger systems of colonialism and oppression are dismantled (Bourgeois; Shelly). 

As the poorest and most disenfranchised sector of society, Indigenous women in both Mexico and Canada endure physical, sexual, structural, political, and economic violence (Marceau et al.). In both countries, Indigenous women are relegated to “marginal, peripheral, and perilous spaces” (Marceau et al.) where they are prevented from social mobility into society by structural discrimination and where they are left extremely vulnerable to violence and exploitation (Shelly). These unprotected and dangerous spaces are what Marceau et al. describe as “geographies of exclusion”. The city of Juárez in Mexico is an example of such as space: it is an industrial site along the Mexico-U.S. border where cartel violence, trafficking, and poverty are rampant and in which “disposable women” operate maquiladoras (factories) (Marceau et al.). Since 1993, hundreds of cases of murdered poor and Indigenous women maquiladora workers have been reported annually (Shelly). Many of these women were also victims of rape (Shelly). The vast majority of the murders of women in Juárez “go on with impunity, without investigation, persecution, or justice… [and with] little consequences to the authorities” (Shelly). 

Canada also houses “geographies of exclusion” that create dangerous conditions for Indigenous women. Bourgeois notes that the 2006 Canadian Census showed that “the number of Indigenous women and girls living under poverty was more than double the number of non-Indigenous women” and argues that such economic marginalization is a product of the state’s theft of Indigenous lands and their expulsion of Indigenous peoples into remote and unprotected territories. She cites these conditions of poverty and isolation as significant contributing factors to the violence against Indigenous women. Indigenous communities are also victims to environmental racism: they are deemed as ‘sacrificeable’, non-important collateral damage to withstand the landfills, hazardous waste treatment, and other toxic facilities needed to operate the state’s neoliberal aspirations (Bullard). Indigenous women are uniquely affected by state-sponsored environmental racism: infertility, miscarriages, and reproductive system cancers have been reported across Indigenous communities that endure the consequences of industry, and “each succeeding generation inherits a body burden of toxic chemicals from their mothers”, making women “landfills” (“Violence on the Land”). Industry also creates the conditions for “man camps” to arise near Indigenous communities where sexual abuse and disappearances are rampant (“Violence on the Land”). Although the deadly effect of industry on Indigenous peoples throughout Canada has been highly researched and publicized, the state and the private sector allow industry to continue (“Violence on the Land”). Mexico and Canada, then, are both territories that house “geographies of exclusion” where conditions for violence on Indigenous women are established.

            Geographies of exclusion pave the way for a particular form of violence against Indigenous women to operate in both Canada and Mexico: human trafficking.In Mexico, every year, approximately 10,000 people are trafficked within the country and 5,000 to the U.S; and Indigenous women have been confirmed as one of the most vulnerable group victims to trafficking because of their structural vulnerability (Acharya). Similarly, in Canada, Indigenous women are disproportionately represented as victims to trafficking: although they onlyconstitute nearly 4% of the total female population in Canada, “the majority of people trafficked within Canada are Aboriginal women and children” (“Sexual Exploitation”).State discrimination, poverty, isolation, and lack of support networks and education contribute to the trafficking of Indigenous women (“Sexual Exploitation”). Moreover, in both Canada and Mexico, many Indigenous women victims are put into circuits of sexual service that supply industries that contribute to the exploitation of Indigenous nations: in Mexico, many victims are circulated between drug cartel networks which themselves exploit Indigenous peoples and lands (Rueda); and in Canada, many women are trafficked to serve the oil and mining businesses in Alberta (“Sexual Exploitation”). For example, in the case of Canada, a “significant number of men travel back and forth from Saskatchewan to northern Saskatchewan or Alberta for short periods of time to work in oil rigs or at uranium mines”, and in keeping with their movement, “girls are moved in triangles such as Saskatoon – Edmonton – Calgary –Saskatoon and Saskatoon – Regina – Winnipeg – Saskatoon” (“Sexual Exploitation”). Human trafficking, then, is a form of violence disproportionately affecting Indigenous women in both Canada and Mexico that is realized by the ongoing historical marginalization of Indigenous women and the rendering of their bodies as available and disposable.   

Violence against Indigenous women is epidemic in both Canada and Mexico. Colonization and neo-colonization endanger Indigenous peoples because they stand in the way of neoliberal aspirations of land acquisition and extractive industry. These structures produce and enable violence upon Indigenous women whose bodies are deemed available and disposable.  This is why, as Bourgeois and Shelly argue, the violence experienced by Indigenous women will not end without decolonization.

About the Author

I am a student of secondary education at the University of Alberta particularly interested in the experiences of intersectional identities in politics and history. In my writing and teaching, I focus on Indigenous relationships with capitalism, kyriarchal systems of power and oppression, identity (re)construction and negotiation in traditional culture and in diasporic and/or (post)colonial societies, and policy on refugee crises.