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First Nations Women Fight Oppression

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September 27, 2003

First Nations Women Fight Oppression

by Andrea Markey

A 24-year-old Mik'maq woman committed suicide in a Miramichi, New Brunswick, police holding cell earlier this month. Amy Patles died in hospital on September 9 following two days on life support. She had been arrested on charges of robbery and breach of bail conditions. Fredericton Police are conducting an external investigation of the incident.

Following Patles' death, Aboriginal women in the province are speaking out against systematic oppression.

Christine Augustine, a University of New Brunswick Master's student in education from Eel Ground First Nation, said the injustice Aboriginal women suffer is like an onion with many layers.

"Women's lack of influence in the running of their communities is the first layer of injustice," she said, adding that there are no female Chiefs and very few women elected as Band Counselors in the province. "Men are very worried about resource-based concerns and oftentimes there are women, like Amy, who are overlooked. We are losing women to the system and it is our women who need to help each other."

An urgent appeal to all members of the New Brunswick Legislature issued in July by the Elizabeth Frye Society (EFS) painted an image of women's suffering in the provincial prison system.

"We are literally seeing women dying before our eyes because of their addictions," wrote EFS Saint John President, Marianna Stack. She urged the provincial government to implement addiction treatment to end the revolving door cycle of women's incarceration.

"Amy pleaded with the judge not to send her back to jail but to drug rehabilitation instead," said Augustine. "We have to use Amy's memory so that no other women will fall through the cracks."

Patles' biological mother, Doris Knockwood, told The Dominion that she has questions about her daughter's death that she needs answered, including why she was not allowed into Miramichi Regional Hospital to be beside her daughter during the final hours of her life.

"I hope that they will find out exactly what happened to Amy in there," she said. "I hope that this will never happen again to an Aboriginal person."

Staff Sergeant Tim Kelly of the Fredericton Police and Sergeant Earl Campbell of the Miramichi Police each declined to comment on the incident, citing the ongoing investigation.

» Advisory Council on the Status of Women: Elizabeth Frye Society Letter to Premier Bernard Lord (pdf)

» Canadian Dimension: Aboriginal Women's Perspectives on Self-Government

» PrisonJustice.ca: Discrimination Against Aboriginal Women Rampant In Federal Prisons

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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