Exploration on Indigenous Lands and Exploitation of Indigenous Bodies

Exploration on Indigenous Lands and Exploitation of Indigenous Bodies

On November 25, 2005, Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (Trafficking in Persons), received its Royal Assent. This Bill introduced changes to the Criminal Code of Canada by including section 279 to address the growing concern over trafficking in women. Since the Bill received its Royal Assent, there has been a reported increase in concern of trafficking in Indigenous women. Yasmin Ratansi in the report of The Standing Committee on the Status of Women writes, “[Indigenous] girls and women are at greater risk of becoming victims of trafficking within and outside Canada” (9). After the report’s publication in February 2007, there has been an expressed need in research investigating trafficking in Indigenous women and girls within Canada. For example, in November of that same year, a report was published by the First Nations Caring Society calling for more analysis, research, and documentation of trafficking in Indigenous women and girls (Sethi 68). Then in March 2010, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) released a complex report entitled Human Trafficking in Canada that provided a “baseline of human trafficking activities affecting Canada in both the transnational and domestic perspectives” (1). While current research on this growing topic concerns itself with examining the causes of trafficking in Indigenous women and girls, there is little research that investigates the connections between exploration on Indigenous lands and the exploitation of Indigenous bodies, specifically Indigenous women’s bodies. Although Canada’s current anti-prostitution and anti-human trafficking legislation appear to work for the safety and security of individuals, I will argue that these policies further advance the colonial agenda of the Canadian government within a historical and present day context as guise for settlers searching for more economic profit by exploiting Indigenous lands and Indigenous bodies. I will support my argument through a historical analysis of the current anti-prostitution and anti-human trafficking legislation, the role of policing within a Canadian context, and by examining themes of exploitation and policing of Indigenous bodies, specifically Indigenous women’s bodies through Canada’s colonial agenda.

The term settler is often mistakenly used to describe individuals of European descent. However, this is a term that is defined as people who are non-Indigenous and who “want Indigenous people to vanish (but can make use of their labour before they are made to disappear)” (Settler Colonial Studies Blog). As such, the settler can also be someone who enforces policies to exploit Indigenous bodies for the settler’s own economic profit, like the Canadian government. The Canadian government operated and continues to operate in an exploitative manner and this exploitation of Indigenous bodies on Indigenous land began with the creation of Canada’s policing agencies.

This history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) originates from the creation of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP), which was established in May 1873 (The RCMP’s History). The history of the NWMP is ingenuously described as providing Indians, Metis, settlers, and traders with “the opportunity of living under a system of law impartially enforced and guaranteeing equal rights to all” (Comack 67). Often ignored is the role the NWMP played in the criminalization of Indigenous peoples through the effects of carrying out Canada’s colonial agenda, which included the forced assimilation and civilization of Indigenous populations. In her chapter titled entitled “Colonialism Past and Present,” Comack writes, “the project of colonizing the Indigenous population began in the seventeenth century [and] the colonial project involved a number of strategies” (69). One strategy included the enactment of the Indian Act in 1876, where the Canadian government legislated the forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes to residential schools and led to the criminalization of Indigenous men and women, which eventually banished them from cities/towns through various sections of this Act. This banishment from cities and towns often led to the displacement of both Indigenous people from their own communities; unfortunately, it most often led to the displacement of Indigenous women from their community in disparate comparison to Indigenous men (Boyer 78). According to Comack, the NWMP role was to protect settlers’ missions to dominate and control Indigenous land by “implementing the government’s policies towards [Indigenous] people” (75) by controlling Indigenous . The controlling and dominating of Indigenous bodies could not have been accomplished without this policing agency, and the Canadian government’s policies that continue to exist today.

One such policy that continues to exist today is the Indian Act. The Indian Act is a legislation that has undergone many changes since its enactment in 1876. Some of these changes were undoubtedly for the benefit of Canada’s Indigenous populations. Yet, the most underreported change that directly affected Indigenous women and girls is the prostitution sections that permitted the policing of Indigenous bodies and sexuality, specifically Indigenous women’s bodies and sexuality. During colonization, the settlers began to redefine the roles of Indigenous men and women by disparaging the role of Indigenous women in Indigenous communities (Boyer 75). Before settlers arrived, Indigenous women often held prestigious roles in their communities (Boyer 75). Unfortunately this changed with the creation of the Indian Act in 1876. Before the enactment of the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) where Canada’s current anti-prostitution laws can be found, the anti-prostitution laws were first enacted in the Indian Act “by adding a series of provisions relating to prostitution” (Boyer 78). These sections relating to prostitution within the Indian Act underwent significant changes, which added more force and more provisions than their preceding sections. For instance, initial sections only affected Indigenous women. However, later modified sections affected both Indigenous men and women, and allowed for policing of Indigenous bodies and sexuality in their own homes (Boyer 78). Finally in 1892, the CCC was enacted and all sections relating to prostitution were removed from the Indian Act and then added to the CCC (Boyer 78). There is almost no recognition of this history of prostitution laws in Canada in current research that attempts to address the growing concern over human trafficking in Indigenous women and girls. As a consequence, the continued policing of Indigenous women’s bodies and sexuality as being inherently tied to the colonization of Canada are often ignored.

At the heart of colonization is Othering where the Other is seen as the problem. Linda T. Smith writes, “the ‘indigenous problem’ is a recurrent theme in all imperial and colonial attempts to deal with Indigenous peoples [and] concern about ‘the indigenous problem’ began as an explicitly militaristic or policing concern” (91). The Indigenous problem for Canada was initiated through its creation of policies and the problem was controlled by Canada’s policing agencies like the previously mentioned NWMP and then later through the creation of the RCMP. The RCMP was created in 1920 by amalgamating the Dominion Police, which policed eastern parts of Canada, and the NWMP (The RCMP’s History). Thus, this colonial and violent legacy of the NWMP lives on through the RCMP. In addition to this legacy, another role of the NWMP was to “keep peace between Aboriginal people and settlers in order to encourage economic development” (Comack 74). It is at this historical moment with the creation of the NWMP, then later the amalgamation of all policing agencies under one federal force, the RCMP, can connections between the exploitation of Indigenous lands and through the policing of Indigenous bodies, specifically Indigenous women’s bodies and sexuality, for economic profit be distinguished in a Canadian context.

Human trafficking is policed in Canada under two distinct pieces of legislation.1 In “Human Trafficking in Canada,” the definition of human trafficking depends on the context and the position of the victim in the globalized world.1 The RCMP defines domestic human trafficking “in which all stages of trafficking occur within Canada regardless of the victim’s legal status” (Royal Canadian Mounted Police 8). In addition to this, domestic human trafficking in Indigenous women and girls is defined as being familial-based, where a family member coerces the other family member to participate in sex trade, or gang related, or organized and involving “escort services, massage parlours, or dancers” (Sethi 59). It is often described as an exploitative relationship between two individuals where one controls, coerces, or forces another to do labour, which is most often sexual labour, through intimidation and violence, and the RCMP definition emphasizes that a human trafficking victim does not have to be moved to be trafficked (Royal Canadian Mounted Police 2). One of the major legislative problems relating to human trafficking is the unclear and often complex definition of human trafficking (Sikka 4). The unclear definition is often cited as embedded in the uniqueness of each trafficking victim’s experiences. Sethi writes, “policy making should take into account this diversity, as there is no one pan-[Indigenous] identity” (65). In addition to this, Sethi argues that an emerging key trend relating to trafficking in Indigenous women and girls is the increased trafficking “due to flourishing oil rights and mining businesses in Alberta” (60). It appears that these legislative and research efforts to combat trafficking in Indigenous women and girls are genuine. Unfortunately, this lack of concern over exploitation of Indigenous lands, and policing of Indigenous women’s bodies is disheartening.

As mentioned earlier, research on this growing topic concerns itself with examining the causes of trafficking in Indigenous women and girls. As such there is little research that investigates the extent of resource extraction as way to exploit Indigenous lands and the creation of the problem of human trafficking as a way to police Indigenous bodies, specifically Indigenous women’s bodies and sexuality, for economic profit. In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People, Smith examines limitations of research through the discourse of the Indigenous problem. Smith states:

“A continuing legacy of what has come to be taken for granted as a natural link between the term ‘indigenous’ (or its substitutes) and ‘problem’ is that many researchers, even those with the best of intentions, frame their research in ways that assume that the locus of a particular research problems lies with the indigenous individual or community rather than with other social or structural issues.” (92)

This growing concern over trafficking of Indigenous women and girls is initiated and maintained through Canadian policies, like Bill C-49, and through the continued policing of Indigenous bodies. In other words, the settlers create an Indigenous problem and maintain this problem as one where Indigenous bodies must be controlled to further exploit Indigenous lands, as historically demonstrated through the creation of the Indigenous problem, the Indigenous women as a prostitute, and the creation of the NWMP and its living legacy, the RCMP. When the RCMP and researchers defining trafficking in Indigenous women and girls as a problem within families and communities, they ignore, as stated earlier, the continued policing of Indigenous women’s bodies and sexuality as being inherently tied to Canada’s colonial agenda.

Consequently, institutions and researchers do not directly address the effects of Canada’s colonial agenda on Indigenous women and girls. Some of the effects of colonization on Indigenous women and girls include experiencing violence or fearing for their lives at a much higher rate in comparison to non-Indigenous women of the same ages (Native Women’s Association of Canada). If human trafficking is defined as exploitive relationships including fearing for their safety and experiences of violence, then there should be an increase in human trafficking victims. The RCMP accounts for the low reporting of domestic human trafficking victims and their experiences “due to the hidden nature of the crime, the reluctance of victims and witnesses to come forward to law enforcement and the difficulty of identifying victims” (Royal Canadian Mounted Police 38). The RCMP also defines a domestic human trafficking victim as someone who does not know they are victim (Royal Canadian Mounted Police 38) Thus, the RCMP removes agency from trafficking victims by defining who is a victim and who is deserving of being “saved.” This conceptualization of the victim in domestic human trafficking discourses indicates a disregard for the continued exploitation of Indigenous women’s bodies by designating who is a worthy victim: one who does not have agency and one who deserves to be saved. As such, the conceptualization of a legitimate victim is demonstrative of the colonial agenda.

Historically, Indigenous peoples were seen as savages and uncivilized (Comack 69). Today, as indicated above, they are seen as having no capacity for agency, and need to be rescued. This colonial agenda indicates a further exploitation of Indigenous lands and controlling of Indigenous women’s bodies. Susan Hawthorne, in “Land, Bodies, and Knowledge: Biocolonialism of Plants, Indigenous Peoples, Women, and People with Disabilities,” makes this connection between women’s bodies and the land. Hawthorne writes, “both the land and women’s bodies have suffered colonialist intrusions, and both colonialist and imperial agendas have capitalized on exploiting women’s bodies and the land” (314). With the continuing increase in exploitation of Indigenous bodies and the continued policing of Indigenous bodies, specifically Indigenous women’s bodies, the colonial agenda can be furthered in an effort to gain economic profit in a present day context through the anti-human trafficking legislation.

One might argue that there are legitimate human trafficking victims that are deserving of support and the services to help rehabilitate the victims of human trafficking. If human trafficking victims and their relationship to the human trafficking perpetrators as exploitative, it can be counter-argued that the creation of section 279 of the CCC is excessive since there are other sections of the CCC that deal with violence, sexual exploitation, kidnapping, and other items that may classify a human trafficking victim’s experience (Sikka 17). In addition to this, one might argue by not addressing domestic human trafficking that it will not bring justice to the families/friends of the 600+ missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). As outlined in The Standing Committee on the Status of Women report, witnesses to the committee stated that “trafficking must be looked at as a possible source for [MMIW] information” (Ratansi 9). Yet, the RCMP emphasizes, as indicated earlier, that a domestic human trafficking victim does not have to include the movement of the victim. Sikka also argues that conflating human trafficking with the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women “does an injustice to both issues.” She further outlines the difficulties with this conflation of the two issues by arguing that “exploitation that does not contain an element of kidnapping goes unnoticed, and girls who are susceptible to exploitation because of having ‘run away’ from care facilities are held responsible for their own exploitation” (11). This discussion of human trafficking and Indigenous women and girls begs the question: why are settlers so concerned with trafficking in Indigenous women and girls?

In I am Woman, Lee Maracle highlights the aims of the colonial agenda from an Indigenous woman’s perspective. Lee Maracle writes, “the aims of the colonizer are to break up communities and families, and to destroy the sense of nationhood and the spirit of co-operation among the colonized” (91). Maracle reminds us of Canada’s colonial agenda in relation to the increasing concern over trafficking in Indigenous women and girls. The colonial agenda persists through the conceptualization of domestic trafficking victims, as being non-agents, and domestic trafficking perpetrators, as being closely related to Indigenous women and girls. The anti-prostitution and anti-human trafficking legislation continues to police Indigenous bodies, specifically Indigenous women’s bodies and sexuality, and allows for the increasing exploitation of Indigenous lands for economic profit by ignoring the injustices that Indigenous people experience due to Canada’s colonial agenda. In order to address the continued exploitation of Indigenous women and girls, an investigation into the connection between Canada’s colonial agenda and the policing of Indigenous bodies, either as victims or perpetrators, needs to be investigated. If a settler is defined as someone who wants Indigenous people to vanish, then Canada’s colonial agenda is right on track by ignoring these connections between exploitation of Indigenous land and Indigenous bodies, and with the ever-increasing greatest social injustice committed against Indigenous peoples: the large number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. As a nation, Canada and Canadians need to be reminded of this colonial agenda and the ways in which this persists through the NWMP’s living legacy, the RCMP, and the exploitation of Indigenous lands and Indigenous bodies, specifically Indigenous women bodies and sexuality, through Canada’s current anti-prostitution and anti-human trafficking legislation.

Works Cited

Barnett, Lauren. Bill C-49: An Act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada (Trafficking in Persons). 12 Jun. 2006. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Boyer, Yvonne. “First Nations Women’s Contributions to Culture and Community through Canadian Law.” Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture. Ed. Valaskakis, Gail G., Madeleine Dion Stout, and Eric Guimond. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 69-96. 2009. Print.
Comack, Elizabeth. Racialized Policing: Aboriginal People’s Encounters with the Police. Canada: Fernwood Publishing. 2012. Print.
Hawthorne, Susan. “Land, Bodies, and Knowledge: Biocolonialism of Plants, Indigenous Peoples, Women and People with Disabilities.” Signs 32.2 (2007), 314-323. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Maracle, Lee. I am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism. British Columbia: Press Gang Publishers, 1999. Print.
Native Women’s Association of Canada. Fact Sheet: Violence Against Aboriginal Women. n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Public Safety Canada. Human Trafficking. 03 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Ratansi, Yasmin. Turning Outrage into Action to Address Trafficking For the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation in Canada. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Feb. 2007. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Human Trafficking in Canada. Mar. 2004. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The RCMP’s History. 09 July 2007. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Sethi, Anupriya. “Domestic Sex Trafficking of Aboriginal Girls in Canada: Issues and Implications.” A Journal on Innovation and Best Practices in Aboriginal Child Welfare Administration, Research, Policy, and Practice. 3.3 (2007): 51-57. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Settler Colonial Studies Blog. Definition. n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Sikka, Anette. Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada. Institute of Governance. May 2009. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Smith, Linda T. “Research Adventures on Indigenous Land.” Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People. London & New York: Zed Books Ltd, 78-93. 2002. Print.

[1]. For purposes of this paper, I will focus on domestic human trafficking, its definitions, and its discourses.

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12 comments

  1. I am a bit confused. Do you think that human trafficking and sex slavery is a problem that Canadian law enforcement should address? And if so, how?

    1. No. I am saying that human trafficking legislation is an extension of the colonial agenda, should be re-examined, and that conflating these issues with MMIW is a problem.

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