The last time I talked about some of Canada’s first bawdy house laws and laws targeting Indigenous women’s sexualities and bodies coming from the Indian Act was for a class this past term. This piece of history is rarely talked about or even acknowledge when there is a full canvassing of prostitution laws in Canada (See Angela Campbell’s text on surrogacy, sister wives and sex workers). I sometimes get tired of writing about this history and I sometimes get tired of having to even mention it. You would think that people who are so adamant about getting rid of the Indian Act would mention that history too? Or, at least, you would think people who are so insistent on abolishing prostitution that they would look to the history of criminalizing Indigenous women’s sexualities and bodies, especially when it comes to the intent of the Indian Act: get rid of the Indian problem. I guess, criminalizing Indigenous women’s bodies and sexualities to get rid of something, anything, including Indigenous women is part of this colonial project, goal…get rid of the Indian problem.
The first time I read about the history of Canada’s first prostitution provisions, however, was through secondary research. I first read about it in Yvonne Boyer’s essay, “First Nations Women’s Contributions to Culture and Community through Canadian Law.” So, when I first read these provisions in their corresponding amending Acts, I didn’t know what to expect.
Amending Acts are Acts created by a government to amend, well, other Acts. So, each time there was an amendment made to the Indian Act, you can find (or at least should) find an Amending Act. I went searching for these Amending Acts a few months ago.
The first time I read these provisions in context, I grew sick to my stomach. The room I stood in, the law school library, started spinning. I reminded myself, “Naomi keep breathing.” I tapped my fingers to bring myself back into the room. It is something my counsellor also taught me—tapping. I am not sure what it is its technical term but it helps…sometimes. I don’t know where I had to be that day but all I can remember after reading the provisions in context is going home to sleep. Disassociation. I disassociated that day. I do this a lot including a lot more while in law school. The violence that law and law school does.
Patricia Monture writes about the erasure of Indigenous women in feminism in her paper titled, “The Violence We Women Do: A First Nations View.” She writes about how (white/mainstream) feminists need to talk about race if they want to truly end violence against women, including Indigenous women.
I see, in discussions surrounding prostitution and Indigenous women in the sex trade, that organizations and others are constantly calling for Indigenous women to be included in these discussions—these discussions referring to ending violence against women, and in particular ending violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks. Yet, I don’t think that is the problem: we have always been focused on Indigenous women. Rather, there is this problem of ignoring the law, the history of the law and how the laws have always targeted Indigenous women, their sexualities and their bodies. We can see this same extension of targeting Indigenous, poor and racialized sexualities and bodies (and not just Indigenous women) through the enactment of Bill C-36, Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.
Why do we ignore the history of these laws when calling an end to violence against Indigenous women, girls and two spirit folks? Why do we ignore how these laws specifically targeted these same groups of people? It is not Indigenous women, girls or two spirit folks that are vulnerable or at-risk; rather, it is the law that makes them at-risk and vulnerable to the violence, especially to the violence that these laws permit to be carried on Indigenous folks’ bodies. The reality is that these laws are made with our bodies (at the expense of one’s safety and well-being, of course) and on our bodies—the colonial project. And, before it is too late, space needs to be created to discuss the criminalization of Indigenous women’s bodies and sexualities as inherently tied to this ongoing goal, get rid of the Indian problem.