Our bodies are not terra nullius 

I will not be linking to any media articles for this post. There is enough out there for my readers to find the articles on their own. Be forewarned that what you will read may shock you with how the media is treating this violent death. If it doesn’t shock you, you will understand when an Indigenous woman who dies a violent death, it is “just business as usual.”

People are asking who else wrote about this, who else is talking about this besides the media. Basically, nobody. Typical. In that same breadth, pay attention who stays silent. It scares me.

I am scared. I am angry. I am sad.

Yesterday I received the news of the verdict. “You must have heard by now,” my friend sent me. I didn’t. I just got off the plane. I was on my way to an interview. I checked twitter. Practically silent. I checked Facebook. Same thing. I googled his name to find the media had begun reporting on the verdict.

Her name is Cindy Gladue.

The defence was that she consented and that he didn’t “mean to hurt her.” Nobody consents to have an 11cm wound inflicted on his or her genitals with a blood alcohol level that is over four times the legal limit. Her body parts were brought into the courtroom. It was on display in front of a jury made up of all non-native jury of mostly men.

She was also a mother.

I had no time to process what I just read. I stopped for four seconds in the corner before getting onto the ferry to take me to mainland. The tears immediately came down my face. “Don’t forget to breathe.” Forgetting to breathe, that’s my problem. I wish that was my only problem. I arrived to the mainland. I called my friend. We talked briefly in the cab. We tried to let each other go on a good note.

She was also a sex worker. And this is the thing that makes this verdict even more violent. Sex workers do not consent to the violence that they experience. Money does not change the circumstances of rape, violence or murder. Nobody consents to have an 11cm wound inflicted on his or her genitals with a blood alcohol level that is over four times the legal limit. That is something that a person cannot consent too.

I walked into the interview. I put a smile on my face but I just wanted to scream. Immediately following the interview, I left and went had a couple of beers at the local pub. There were white men around me everywhere and the thoughts going through my mind were terror.

I kept re-reading the news articles. Did I miss something? Even the medical examiner agreed she died from trauma caused by her wound. The accused said he found her in the bathtub at 8am.  She probably couldn’t even walk to the bathroom by herself given the alcohol in her system. He then said she started her menstrual cycle that night. Women do not die from their periods. He said he tried to call for help. That help would have included the police. The same police that Edmonton Indigenous sex workers, and Indigenous women and girls say are the source of their violence. Some people say the Crown and the police failed her. But the system is doing what it was always designed to do… get rid of the Indian problem. Some say that there are legal tests and cases that would support the Crown’s case. Reducing her death down to abstract legal tests is violence. The violence that she experienced does not exist in isolation from all the other systems policing her life as an Indigenous woman and as sex worker. The system is violent.

By the time I was on a plane, I still struggled with holding the tears back. I just wanted to scream out. But who would listen? Everyone around me is silent. Everyone just wants to get home to their family. My seatmate complained about the 50+ cm of snow he had to shovel once he arrived home. I wish that was all I had to worry about. But as an Indigenous woman with sex working experience, I have to worry about the violence that I may encounter just because I am indigenous and the violence that may be done to my body. The stigma of having sex work experience increases the likelihood that other people will write me off as calling the violence into my life and consenting to that violence. We do not consent to violence. The sex work experience also increases the likelihood that the sex work experience will be the focus instead of the fact women who go missing or who are murdered are people too. The stigma is violence.

As my friend says, “Our bodies are not terra nullius.” Our bodies are not empty. They belong to us. They belong to this land. Cindy is on her way home. The ancestors will keep her warm and safe now. And her body always belonged to this land.

Comment section is closed on this post as of Saturday March 21, 2015. Regardless of their contents, new comments will not be approved. 

Note: The fact surrounding the jurors updated March 25, 2015. Initial version said 2 women were on the jury which was updated March 19, 2015 to read all men. Detail confirmed to read mostly men. 

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7 thoughts on “Our bodies are not terra nullius 

  1. Just shared this on Facebook, because I haven’t heard a word about this outside Twitter. All comments of “I never heard about this.” And I’m in Edmonton. I had to search and scroll down far to find anything else. Thank you for writing about this. The media articles are absolutely chilling.

  2. Powerful article. Thank you for writing it. My words cannot convey the grief and horror and fear that I feel. May she RIP now and peace to her family and friends.

  3. Thank you for writing. For everything you write and do.

  4. Pingback: The World Fell Apart | the hard conversations

  5. Pingback: For Cindy, For Ourselves: Healing from ongoing colonial gender violence | Moontime Warrior

  6. Pingback: Indigenous Voices on Cindy Gladue: A Reading List | Elle Beaver

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