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The creation of the expected Aboriginal woman drug offender in Canada: Exploring relations between victimization, punishment, and cultural identity



This article illustrates how the Aboriginal female drug user is responded to as an expected offender based on the intersection of her gender, race, and class. Drawing on the findings of a national Canadian study documenting the lived experiences of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit female drug users, we argue that the strengthening of cultural identity can potentially disrupt this expected status at both the individual and social system levels. Within the framework of critical victimology, the challenge then becomes to translate this understanding into praxis. In response, we suggest advancing women's agency at the individual level in the face of disempowering images and practices related to the offender, the victim, and Aboriginality. For change at the system level, we return to Christie's notion of the need to dismantle the stereotypical construction of the Aboriginal female drug user. We illustrate both levels of change with an innovative form of knowledge sharing, which aims to evoke transformation with respect to individual and socially constructed conceptualizations of identity.
International Review of Victimology
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0269758012447215
published online 14 June 2012International Review of Victimology
Colleen Anne Dell and Jennifer M. Kilty
relations between victimization, punishment, and cultural identity
The creation of the expected Aboriginal woman drug offender in Canada: Exploring
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The creation of the expected
Aboriginal woman drug
offender in Canada:
Exploring relations between
victimization, punishment,
and cultural identity
Colleen Anne Dell
University of Saskatchewan, Canada
Jennifer M. Kilty
University of Ottawa, Canada
This article illustrates how the Aboriginal female drug user is responded to as an expected offender
based on the intersection of her gender, race, and class. Drawing on the findings of a national
Canadian study documenting the lived experiences of First Nations, Me
´tis, and Inuit female drug
users, we argue that the strengthening of cultural identity can potentially disrupt this expected
status at both the individual and social system levels. Within the framework of critical victimology,
the challenge then becomes to translate this understanding into praxis. In response, we suggest
advancing women’s agency at the individual level in the face of disempowering images and practices
related to the offender, the victim, and Aboriginality. For change at the system level, we return to
Christie’s notion of the need to dismantle the stereotypical construction of the Aboriginal female
drug user. We illustrate both levels of change with an innovative form of knowledge sharing, which
aims to evoke transformation with respect to individual and socially constructed conceptualiza-
tions of identity.
criminalization, cultural identity, drug offender, punishment, victimology
Corresponding author:
Colleen Anne Dell, Research Chair in Substance Abuse and Associate Professor, Department of Sociology & School of
Public Health, 1109 Arts Building, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7N 5A5, Canada
International Review of Victimology
ªThe Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0269758012447215
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Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Nils Christie (1986a) theorized the notion of the ‘ideal victim’
and the ‘ideal offender’. Christie (1986b) and others (Rock, 2004) have since established how these
ideals legitimate the experiences of some individuals and dismiss those of others at both the indi-
vidual and social system levels. Pervasive within social discourse, notions of the ideal victim and
offender identities serve as a form of social control (Balfour, 2008; Chesney-Lind, 2002) and are
constituted along gender, race, and class divisions (Comack, 1999; Kilty and Fabian, 2010). The
field of critical victimology cautions, however, that these categories are highly malleable and
responsive to historical and cultural contexts. Instead, critical victimology encourages us to
‘include the ‘hidden’ victims of crime in its analysis and [to] consider and highlight the role of
the state in perpetuating inequalities in the ‘production of victims’ (Cochrane and Melville,
2004: 111). Acknowledging this, limited attention has been paid to the intersections of the ideal
victim and offender identities on the lived experience of individuals that embody the derogative
side (woman, racialized, poor) of all three divisions gender, race, and class.
We begin this article by situating the Aboriginal
woman drug user in Canada as the ‘expected
offender’ based on the intersection of her gender, race, and class and by illustrating how given this
expectation, she is conceptualized as deserving of punishment. This particular woman is antitheti-
cal to the Western ideal victim identity, as she is non-white and often poor. We suggest that
strengthening Aboriginal women’s cultural identity can potentially disrupt this expected identity
at both the individual and social system levels. To do this, it is imperative to understand how
women see themselves as a victim, a drug offender, and an Aboriginal woman. Likewise, it
is important to gain an understanding of whether, and how, they interpret themselves as deserving
of punishment.
The making of the ‘iniquitous’ Aboriginal woman drug offender
Smolej (2010: 70) suggests that we do not have a clear understanding of ‘where and how the
concept of the ideal victim is generated in our Western societies’. It follows that it is somewhat
futile to document the harmful outcomes of a constructed identity without fully comprehending
its aetiology. Historically, scholarly and government literature and practice constructed a negative
and harmful identity of Aboriginal women as deserving of punishment and undeserving of protec-
tion (Amnesty International, 2009; Comack and Balfour, 2004; Razack, 2000). For example,
maximum-security prisoners were excluded from the implementation of reforms proposed in
Creating Choices,
the disproportionate majority of whom were Aboriginal. More recently, we
learned that Aboriginal women are more likely than their white counterparts to be confined in seg-
regation, to be in maximum security for longer periods of time and, before its repeal in May 2011,
to be on the strict management protocol designed for problem offenders (Acoby, 2011). In short,
Aboriginal women, especially those who transgress traditional notions of femininity by engaging
in criminal activity and/or drug use, do not make up Christie’s (1986a) notion of the ideal victim
(Kilty and Fabian, 2010; Razack, 2000). Christie (1986a: 1819) states:
By ‘ideal victim’ I have instead in mind a person or a category of individuals who—when hit by
crime—most readily are given complete and legitimate status of being a victim. The ideal victim is,
in my use of the term, a sort of public status of the same type and level of abstraction as that for example
of a ‘hero’ or a ‘traitor.’ It is so by at least five attributes: (1) the victim is weak. Sick, old or very young
people are particularly well suited as ideal victims. (2) The victim was carrying out a respectable proj-
ect [emphasis added]. (3) She was where she could not possibly be blamed for being—in the street
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during the daytime. (4) The offender was big and bad. (5) The offender was unknown and in no
personal relationship to her.
Christie’s (1986a) discussion roots victimization in harm inflicted by one party against another. In
this light, Aboriginal women who use drugs are excluded a status as victims because they are
imposing harm on themselves. Problematically, and as a result of the criminalization of drug use
(not what Christie would argue is a respectable project), Aboriginal women who use drugs are
characterized as offenders a socially constructed identity laden with stigma and notions of
dangerousness (see Bruckert and Hannem, in press). However, conceptualizations of victim and
offender are neither static nor universal (Balfour, 2008; Fattah, 1992).
The ideal offender and the ideal victim are situated within parenthetical understandings of what
it means to be a man or a woman in Western societies. In our longstanding patriarchal culture,
women are often conceptualized as vulnerable, innocent, fearful, and preyed upon, while men are
characterized as strong protectors, but also as those who prey upon others (Gotell, 2009; Stanko,
1997). Similarly, the victim is traditionally identified as a white woman, while the perpetrator is
often racialized as a visible minority man (Doran, 2002; Jiwani, 2002; Razack, 2000). We are bom-
barded by media coverage of this very image, which as Christie (1986a) suggests only legitimizes
these gendered and racialized constructions of ideal victim and offender statuses. For example, in
order to secure a conviction in a sexual assault trial, the victim must often be a white woman char-
acterized as innocent, vulnerable, and weak (Doe, 2004; Razack, 2000; Tsenin, 2000). In the same
vein, critical feminist scholars have long argued that sex workers are rarely considered victims of
sexual assault and are frequently perceived as deserving of their fate (Bruckert, 2002; Gotell, 2009;
Razack, 2000); this is often exacerbated when the women are Aboriginal and drug users (Lowman,
2000; Razack, 2000). State responses to the victimization of Aboriginal women generally and drug
users specifically often fail to recognize them as legitimate, let alone ideal victims, in spite of their
lengthy histories of intersecting trauma and victimization. By decontextualizing victimhood, it
becomes easier to accept attributions of responsibility for individual victimization. As Gotell’s
(2009) recent work on neoliberal victimhood demonstrates, the victim is increasingly becoming
degendered and deracialized through state efforts to responsibilize the rational subject to the
point where she is constructed as inviting (through irresponsible actions, behaviours, or presenta-
tion) or at least participating in her own victimization.
Histories of victimization
Aboriginal women are disproportionately affected by family violence, sexual harassment, inequal-
ity, discrimination, and poverty in Canada, which adversely impacts their health and lives and
those of their children, families, and communities (Boyer, 2006; Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Net-
work, 2002). On almost every socio-economic and health indicator, Aboriginal women do com-
paratively worse than non-Aboriginal women in Canada (Beavon and Cooke, 2003: 61). A
report by the Canadian government documents that violence-related mortality is five times higher
for young First Nations women than for other women in Canada (Native Women’s Association of
Canada, 2010). Further, Amnesty International (2009: 2) reports that Aboriginal women’s experi-
ence of violence in Canada is the result of ‘widespread and entrenched racism, poverty and margin-
alization [which are] critical factors exposing Indigenous women to a heightened risk of violence
while denying them adequate protection by police and government services’. The history of
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state-imposed colonization has set the stage for Aboriginal women’s lived experiences of victimi-
zation in Canadian society today.
The oppression of Aboriginal peoples in Canada is rooted in centuries of despotic government
actions. The devastating relationship between the historical control of Aboriginal peoples and their
current disadvantaged position is well documented (Dua, 1999; LaPrairie, 1995; Reasons and Pav-
lich, 1995). Not as well established are explanations of the impact of historical oppression as it
relates to Aboriginal women and their coming into conflict with the law (Canadian Human Rights
Commission, 2003). We do know, however, that the effects of violence and colonization impact
Aboriginal women’s lives in a multiplicity of ways, including their criminalization (Monture-
Angus, 1999: 78), as research suggests that the ‘most common pathways to crime involve survival
efforts that result from abuse, poverty, and substance abuse’ (Bloom et al., 2003: 8; Canadian
Human Rights Commission, 2003).
Subsequently, the stigmatization of women who use drugs is highly racialized. The intersection
of race, class, and gender does not simply magnify these effects but actually collides to produce
distinctive outcomes for racialized subjects, namely, their over-representation in the criminal jus-
tice system. In comparison to non-Aboriginal women, Aboriginal women are disproportionately
policed, charged, convicted, and sentenced to time in prison for their drug use (Comack and Bal-
four, 2004). Similarly, Boyd (2004) discusses the racialization of the 1980s ‘crack scare’ that
largely took place in the United States and produced a new cultural icon to fear the black urban
crack mother who sacrifices her fetus’s health and children’s well-being for the new drug of
choice. These effects take place within the culture produced by the war on drugs that Boyd
(1999; 2004), among others (Reinarman, 2001), situate as a global effort to police and govern
populations historically deemed dangerous or risky by society’s elites. Aboriginal and post-
colonial scholars have pointed to incarceration as the new residential school, producing similar
effects of cultural dislocation and genocide, as well as segregation (Monture-Angus 1999; Smith
and Ross, 2004).
It should be no surprise, then, that Aboriginal women victims of violence do not fit with Chris-
tie’s conceptualization of the ideal victim (Dell, 2001; Razack, 2000), which is imbued with racist
and classist notions of who is socially accepted as a victim in a patriarchal and predominantly
white society. This means that Aboriginal women who use drugs experience a double negation.
They are not accepted as victims because their drug use is seen as a form of self-harm for which
the individual is held responsible (Kilty, 2008), and they are also denied a status as victims of other
forms of physical and sexual abuse that occur alongside drug use, as evidenced in the lack of
response by the state.
A clear example is the number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women
in Canada, whose disappearances and murders largely go unnoticed by law enforcement. In fact,
Amnesty International (2009: 12) claims that measures to end discrimination and violence against
Indigenous women have been ‘piecemeal at best’ in Canada. It is clear that Indigenous women are
policed rather than protected, which denotes an extraordinary difference between the respective
constructions of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women drug users as those who are risky and
deserving of punishment and those who are misguided and in need of assistance.
The making of contemporary state sanctioned victimization
Historically, Aboriginal peoples were subject to processes of colonization as a state measure to
secure land and to control and punish resisters; however, contemporary processes of colonization
take their shape by way of criminalization. Since social location influences how state institutions
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respond to victims, Aboriginal women are more easily identified as deserving victims (Kilty and
Fabian, 2010), and more so, as offenders deserving of punishment (Comack and Balfour, 2004). As
a result, Aboriginal women become the expected offender with experiences of violence constitut-
ing a normalized part of their lives. Moreover, there exists a social and institutional willingness to
label Aboriginal women as offenders and thus to punish them, as evidenced by their over-
incarceration and enhanced security level classifications within federal and provincial correctional
institutions (Acoby, 2011; Hannah-Moffat, 2004; Monture-Angus, 2000). To illustrate, Balfour
(2008: 102-3) notes the resistance of some defence lawyers to enact Bill C-412
with respect to
their Aboriginal women clients:
... the spiralling rates of imprisonment for Aboriginal women seem to indicate that the legal category
of Aboriginal offender has been closed off to women. The strategies of lawyers appear to be structured
by squaw narratives rather than the subversive stories of colonialism that reveal the intersections
between poverty, substance abuse, illiteracy, sexual violence, overcrowding, patriarchy, and women’s
own violence.
Denial of special consideration for Aboriginal women in the criminal justice system reflects an
increasing state and public acceptance of intolerant stereotypes about Aboriginal women as offen-
ders (Carter, 2002; Hannah-Moffat and Maurutto, 2010; Monture-Angus, 1999). Dell (2001; Dell
et al., 2009) documents how Aboriginal women are unfairly stigmatized within the justice system
and consequently face misunderstanding, neglect, and misrepresentation in the courtroom. In rec-
ognition of the effects of these labels on the execution of justice, the Canadian Human Rights Com-
(2003: 21) includes as its guiding principle: ‘[E]quality is based on the real needs and
identities of federally sentenced women, not on stereotypes, perceptions or generalizations’.
Getting tough on crime; getting tough on women
It is well established that women who come into contact with the criminal justice system are com-
monly victims of childhood and adult sexual and physical abuse, violence, and neglect (Fillmore
and Dell, 2001). In fact, several studies report that women’s experiences of victimization appear to
increase the likelihood of their involvement in crime (Katz, 2000). Balfour (2008: 116) suggests
that ‘[o]ne strategy [forward] may be ... to reconsider the victimization–criminalization conti-
nuum in the context of colonial and gendered structural conditions’. Although the influential role
of violence and trauma in the lives of women involved in the criminal justice system is increasingly
recognized, especially among women charged with drug-related crimes, there still exist multiple
examples of how it is ignored. For example, Chesney-Lind (2002) examines how women and girls
suffer unintentional consequences of mandatory arrest policies for violent crimes, which fail to
account for their use of self-defence.
The increasingly conservative law and order agenda in Canada has resulted in the further crim-
inalization of disenfranchised women. Although women remain overwhelmingly convicted of sta-
tus offences, they are the fastest growing component of both provincial and federal prison
populations (Kilroy and Pate, 2011). In Saskatchewan, for example, the provincial jail was built
for a maximum of 85 prisoners, but its 2010 capacity fluctuated between 130 and 150 women
(Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan, 2010). At both the federal and provincial levels,
incarcerated women are disproportionately victims of violence, poor, undereducated, single moth-
ers, and Aboriginal (Comack and Balfour, 2004; Balfour and Comack, 2006). The increased
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criminalization of Aboriginal women is particularly true for drug offences. This is most
evident with the recent introduction of a mandatory minimum sentences bill for drug offences,
which limits judicial discretion
even though research on the US experience shows this
approach to be highly ineffective and costly on both economic and social levels (Christie,
2000; Reinarman, 2001).
Within the North American war on drugs, women drug offenders are punished for transgressing
traditional ideals of womanhood, which simultaneously emphasize idealized notions of mother-
hood (Boyd, 1999; 2004; Kilty, 2008). Not only are women drug offenders increasingly portrayed
as non-victims, they are also portrayed as victimizing their children, and thus as morally objection-
able (Boyd, 1999; 2004; Boyd and Marcellus, 2007). This is evident in the media, law, and social
policies and ranges from newspaper portrayals blaming ‘bad’ mothers for raising their children and
being pregnant in methamphetamine labs (Kolbi-Molinas, 2010), to women being charged with
murder and child abuse due to cocaine use during pregnancy (Boyd, 1999; 2004; Boyd and Mar-
cellus, 2007; Smith, 2008) to injection drug users not accessing health care for fear of losing cus-
tody of their children (Crowe-Salazar, 2010). The impact of negative attitudes toward Aboriginal
women, and specifically those who are involved in drugs, is evident in child apprehension statis-
tics; one out of every 10 First Nations children in Canada is placed in care, compared with 1 out of
every 200 non-First Nations children (Assembly of First Nations, 2007). Not surprisingly, Abori-
ginal women fear the apprehension of their children, and hide their injection drug use to maintain
custody of their children (Stadnyk et al., 2007: 47).
The ongoing prohibition of drugs is couched in the rhetoric of securing societal protection, but it
actually reinforces essentialized constructions of woman/motherhood. For Aboriginal women who
use drugs, this results in a form of state sanctioned victimization via criminalization that punishes
them for failing to be ideal women and mothers. This process erases their status as victims of
ongoing cultural and social oppression and contributes to an environment reinforcing their per-
sonal histories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Critical victimology: Dismantling the construction of the expected
Aboriginal woman drug offender
The emergence of the sub-discipline of victimology in the 1980s generated much discussion of vic-
tims’ rights and their exclusion from contemporary criminal justice systems that are predominantly
offender-focused. This movement coincided with growing Western conservative ‘get tough on
crime’ agendas that used the concept of victims’ rights to justify the increasingly punitive turn
in corrections (Fattah, 1992; Mawby and Walklate, 1994; Walklate, 2007). As Fattah (1992: 4)
suggests, victims became constructed as ‘natural targets for human sympathy,’ which inherently
limits our emotional ability to critically scrutinize punitive and vengeful initiatives created in their
name. The (re)emergence of the victim (Landau, 2006) within a conservative neoliberal politics
reinforced its associated image as stereotypically frail/weak, innocent/pure, white, youthful, and
typically female prey of unprovoked street- or violent crime (Fattah, 1992). Such a construction
inherently creates a dichotomous image of the offender as diametrically opposed and thus as
dangerous, aggressive, evil, frequently non-white, poor, and predominantly masculine. In this con-
text, it is important to remember Balfour’s (2008) conceptualization of the victimizationcrimi-
nalization continuum and Fattah’s (1992: 7) assertion that ‘the roles of the victim and
victimizer are neither static, assigned nor immutable. They are dynamic, revolving and
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Critical victimology encourages us to question who has the power to define and apply the label
of victim (Miers, 1990); however, Mawby and Walklate (1994: 18) suggest that it is a generic and
neutral, albeit emotionally laden, term that ‘leaves victimology within the confines of law’. They
posit that it is important to break free of this restriction and to consider the broader structural and
institutional forces that constitute victimhood. In particular, these scholars (Mawby and Walklate,
1994; Walklate, 2007) investigate how patriarchy and capitalism create the material conditions that
shape the state of contemporary discussions of victimology and how a rights-based approach, so popu-
larly debated in some countries throughout the 1990s, is complicated by the fact that defendants also
have rights and victims are not one homogeneous collective group. Rather than positioning defen-
dants’ rights against victims’ rights which is how the current criminal justice system functions and
thereby neglects the differences between legal rights and social citizenshipwe should advance a crit-
ical victimology that is situated in the historic and material experiences of both parties.
To do this, we turn to Cochrane and Melville’s (2004: 113) description of critical victimology as
‘an approach that has attempted to incorporate a critical understanding of the role of the law and
state in the victimisation process, as well as recognising the important role of human actors in
influencing the conditions under which they exist’. That is, it accounts for both the influence and
impact of the law and state as well as individual agency in understanding victimhood. Balfour’s
(2008) victimizationcriminalization continuum is an example and extension of this premise of
critical victimology. Central to our position is the need to hear experiential voices in order to learn
how Aboriginal women’s histories of cultural destruction, violence, and socio-political margina-
lization are contoured by state and institutional oppression and how these experiences are related
to their criminalization. Within this framework, we can position criminalization as the continuation
of state victimization of Aboriginal women in Canada and demonstrate how reclaiming a positive
cultural identity can help to challenge the victimizationcriminalization nexus.
Rather than basing criminal law and policy on the growing, but empirically unsupported, fear of
crime that is advanced by conservative politicians and some victims’ rights groups, critical victimol-
ogy offers a theoretical framework for understanding the application of Christie’s (1986a) concept of
the ideal victim and offender identities. To engage this position, we must examine how these iden-
tities are influenced by individuals’ historical and cultural contexts and how they are determined
through an intersection of gender, race, and class at different structural levels. For example, by occu-
pying the subordinated side of all three divisions, the Aboriginal woman drug user is relegated to the
status of the expected offender. Structural processes and practices greatly impact how Aboriginal
women experience their victimization and as we argue, more accurately, their punishment.
Taking into account that individuals forge a distinctive sense of self-identity based on their
social and cultural experiences (Gergen, 2001; Macionis and Gerber, 2009: 627), we question how
an expected identity may be challenged at the individual and social system levels by exploring the
links between victimization and criminalization for Aboriginal women drug users in Canada. In
order to answer this question, the empirical section of this article examines how Aboriginal women
drug offenders conceptualize, negotiate, and experience these intersecting identities. Thus, this
project began with and is rooted in women’s narratives. Drawing from a national study of crimi-
nalized First Nations, Inuit, and Me´tis women, both in treatment and who completed treatment for
illicit drug use, we examine their perceptions of themselves as victims, as offenders, and as Abori-
ginal women. We also explore if and how they view themselves as deserving of punishment. We
argue that a strong cultural identity has benefits for personal change as well as the potential for
warding off the impacts of disempowering Western images of the expected Aboriginal woman
drug user; this understanding informs the main contribution of this article.
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By drawing on the critical victimology literature, and specifically the cautions highlighted in the
work of Christie (1986a), Mawby and Walklate (1994), Walklate (2007), and Cochrane and
Melville (2004), we contend that the challenge in dismantling the expected identity of Aboriginal
women drug offenders in Canada is the need to translate understanding into praxis. Subsequently,
we conclude this article with a brief discussion of a potential way to achieve this end, namely, by
turning to the women’s marginalized voices for direction and by applying unique forms of
knowledge-sharing to disseminate their understanding. This insight can offer learning opportuni-
ties for other Aboriginal women as well as for individuals outside this experience.
The experiences of Aboriginal women drug offenders
In 2005, our national research team undertook a multi-year, community-based study on the role of
identity and stigma in the healing journeys of criminalized Aboriginal women from illicit drug use.
The National Native Addictions Partnership Foundation, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse,
and the University of Saskatchewan spearheaded the project. The majority of participants were First
Nations, which reflected the treatment centre clientele at the six National Native Alcohol and Drug
Abuse (NNADAP) treatment centres where the story-sharing sessions (i.e. interviews) took place.
These sessions occurred over a 12-month period with 65 women in treatment and 20 women who
completed treatment. Thirty-eight interviews also took place with treatment staff, 80%of whom
self-identified as being in recovery from substance abuse. The collected knowledge was analyzed
from multiple viewpoints, and the findings verified with the participating treatment centres.
It is important to acknowledge that Aboriginal women who are criminalized and who proble-
matically use drugs are not a homogeneous group; they differ in countless ways, ranging from drug
of choice to ethnic background and social, cultural, and personal experiences. The overarching
similarities between the women interviewed for this project, however, relays the devastating
impacts of colonization in the lives of Aboriginal women across Canada, evident in their common
experiences, for example, of poverty, violence, family history of residential schooling, and loss of
Aboriginal language.
Consistent with a community-based research model, the study was grounded in the diverse
experiences and expertise of our team members Aboriginal Elders, Aboriginal treatment provi-
ders, women who completed drug treatment, treatment centre directors, academic researchers,
community agencies working with criminalized Aboriginal women, and government
decision-makers. The key finding is that to heal, there is a need for women to (re)claim a healthy
self-identity as an Aboriginal woman. This includes understanding the negative impacts of stigma
associated with being an Aboriginal woman, a drug user, in conflict with the law, and with respect
to her victimization. In congruence with the women’s experiences throughout the healing journey,
we found they negotiated their identities across three intersecting phases, beginning with: (a) not
knowing who you are/limited self-identity; (b) recognizing the harmful impact of stigma on how
you see yourself; and (c) (re)claiming a cultural identity.
Who am I? Notes on experiencing limited self-identity
The pervasive colonial impacts of violence and trauma in the lives of Aboriginal women cannot be
disentangled from their lived experiences, in particular their use of drugs as a means to cope and
belong. For example, one woman stated:
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Drugs allowed me to numb out the pain of loss: loss of my kids, loss of myself, loss of any understand-
ing about my place as an Aboriginal woman in this world. I didn’t feel like I had any kind of future to
look forward to—so I felt like I belonged with the drugs, you know, not with any sort of happiness.
The women in our study shared how they felt lost in their lives and did not know who they were.
One woman simply stated, ‘I am trying to find myself.’ They also spoke of how traumatic life
events, ranging from the loss of a child to protective services to experiences of incarceration to
histories of personal abuse, deeply impacted this experience. For many, these events were initiated
in childhood and occurred at both the social structural (e.g., residential schooling) and individual
(e.g., discrimination) levels. One woman recalled the traumatic and lasting impact of a childhood
experience in grade school on her feelings of self-identity and broader social acceptance:
She had told the kids to bring up all their scribblers. And I um, I ran up there with my, my beautiful little
scribbler, with the ribbons on it, that my grandmother had made and when I gave it to her she looked at
it and she said, ‘This is not a scribbler, it’s nothing but an old bag of potatoes. It’s stupid, it’s ugly.’ She
ripped it up and she threw it in the garbage and um ... I tried to get it from the garbage can but she
wouldn’t let me. And something inside of me ... something inside of me broke ... I think it was my
spirit. And um, I went back to my little desk ...I went back to my little desk and um, I got my sweater
... and I wasn’t crying or I wasn’t sad, I just knew that I was not ever going to be any part of that
system. Ever. And I left. I quit. I quit school in grade one.
This woman retreated from participation in state institutions, such as education, to avoid experi-
encing similar rejection of and disdain for her Aboriginality. She also expressed a loss in spirit that
signalled a loss in identity, or at least a loss in pride for her identity as an Aboriginal woman. For
some, not knowing who they were was compounded by their intent to hide their Aboriginal status
because of the associated racism. One woman shared:
It was hard. It was hard because it was difficult at times because on the reserve I got kicked and beaten
by the Natives for being so pale and off the reserve I get kicked and beaten for being dark-haired and
living on a reserve. So it was a no-win situation.
Another woman shared a similar experience:
I just never knew who I was, never knew who I was. I denied being Indian when I moved off the reserve
because it wasn’t anything very great about being an Indian. And I even went to the extreme of dis-
guising my Indian-ness. Imagine. I mean, I had long hair I’d wear it back in a bun and I would make
a little kiss-curl right in the centre of my head and somebody would ask me if I was Indian and I’d say I
was an Indian from India. And it seemed to me that I was always looking for my identity because I was
also a non-Status Indian living on the reserve because my mother had enfranchised, forced enfranch-
isement when she married my stepfather.
One manifest aspect of the legacy of colonization is the loss of culture. Evident in the recent work
of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
and the existing literature, the loss of culture is
resulting in a loss of identity amongst Indigenous women globally including Canada (Anderson,
2000; Asante, 2005). In this way, colonization, a form of punishment and violence in its own right,
sets the stage for contemporary state sanctioned punishment and victimization of Aboriginal
women who are increasingly criminalized. In place of this lost or limited self-identity, Aboriginal
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women are forced to negotiate and/or contest the pervasive stigmatized identities (e.g., the squaw,
the addict) that were largely created over time by the colonizers, the Canadian government, and
other citizens. It is difficult for many Aboriginal women to challenge these identities because they
have few alternative experiences upon which to draw and make up a positive construction of self.
Coming to understand the intersection of stigmatized identities: Notes
on being a victim, a drug user, and an Aboriginal woman
Many of the women spoke of personal, interpersonal, and intergenerational violence as affecting
their self-identities. Events that had the greatest impact on their self-identities included: racism and
bullying in childhood, child welfare (as a child and with their own children), and experiences of
violence. One woman explained the pervasiveness of violence: ‘Like when I was a child, violence
was, you know, rape and an attack on my mother and seeing family members stabbing people, and
violence, yeah all kinds of violence.’ Violence was commonplace, and in some cases an expected
part of the women’s lives. One woman shared:
... when the Indian Agents left our communities, ‘brown patriarchy’ took its place ... our own people
learned to lead by domination and power and control relationships. The power of the church also con-
tinued to dominate our communities and a very powerful teaching was that men had to control women
and children in order to be men.
Accepting discriminatory and violent treatment as a normalized part of their material realities,
these women did not readily identify themselves as victims. Their status as non-victims was con-
tinually verified by social system (non-)responses, such as police failure to investigate cases of vio-
lence (Razack, 2000) and state failure to adequately assist women who use drugs, including
immediate dismissal from treatment programming for not adhering to abstinence. One participant
claimed: ‘I felt like I was nothing—like I was a junkie. They made me feel like there was no hope
for myself—that’s why I stayed on the streets for three years, because they made me feel like I had
no hope.’
The consequence of the pervasive violence in their lives was that the women felt worthless and
isolated. One woman expressed: ‘for shame, what’s been done to me I guess. I feel dirty,’ while
another woman stated: ‘I just basically felt alone and that there was nobody around.’ The latter
finding is particularly telling because self-identity from an Indigenous worldview is based upon
connections to the land, others, and community; it is a way of life. Ross (2004) draws upon the
work of Benton-Banai (1979) to describe an Indigenous worldview, where ‘[w]hatever happened
with one thing rippled out to touch and affect all other things’ (cited in Hopkins and Dumont, 2010:
10). Accordingly, just as individual well-being is situated within a complex web of interdependent
relationships, different components of one’s identity (empowered or disempowered, healthy or
harmful) are often related. Given this connection, it is clear that as many of the women began
to use drugs as a method of coping with their victimization, their identities as victims became intri-
cately tied to their identities as drug users.
The women commonly referred to themselves as ‘an alcoholic’ or ‘a drunk,’ but they did not
draw heavily on drug culture language, for example, by referring to themselves as ‘druggies.’
Although this reflects the women’s use of alcohol alongside drugs, it also dismisses their drug user
identity. This may partially be explained by the ongoing and devastating impacts of alcohol on
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Aboriginal communities and thus its normalization and acceptance within their lives (Thatcher,
2004). Consequently, an alcoholic identity has significantly less stigma attached to it.
Similarly, there was limited criminal self-identification among the women. Reflecting Balfour’s
(2008) discussion of the victimizationcriminalization continuum, the women overwhelmingly
linked their criminal involvement to a pragmatic choice to use and sell drugs in order to cope and
survive their victimization. One woman reflected:
After everything I went through, being an Indian kid in a White world, getting beat as a child and then
by my husband—I just started to use to make it all stop. So I could numb it out. Just forget for a while
that my life was hell on the reserve and then hell on the streets. If I couldn’t feel, if I could be numb, I
could forget it, even if only for a little while. But then I just ended up getting hooked, and in and out of
jail. I just kept going around and around in all of that.
Moreover, the women were reluctant to associate themselves as either a drug user or an offen-
der, several noting the embarrassment and shame that they felt. For example, one woman
I hid it for a long, long time; I never wanted my family or kids to know that I was using or had done
time. I didn’t even want to admit it to myself. I kept saying to myself, ‘You got it under control, you can
stop any time.’ But of course that was wrong. But it just isn’t me. It’s not the real me—I used drugs but
I’m not a druggie, you know what I mean? I don’t feel like ‘a criminal.’
Many participants spoke of feeling as though they were being punished for engaging in different
coping or survival behaviours. Another woman explained:
There is so little help when you’re poor, when you’re Indian, and when you use drugs. I mean, what the
fuck was jail going to do for me? Did it help me get clean? No. I just got punished over and over again
for coping any way I could. For surviving. I mean, I know that using is not a good thing, right? But at
the time, I just couldn’t do anything else, or I thought I couldn’t.
The traditional role for Aboriginal women is to be the caretaker in the family and community,
which essentializes motherhood as an inherent component of their identity (Boyd, 1999; 2004;
Kilty, 2008). Overwhelmingly, the women in our study self-identified as ‘poor’ and as ‘bad moth-
ers’; motherhood was a key source of pain and self-punishment. They identified motherhood as a
foundational component of who they are, not merely something that they do. However, when they
spoke about being a mother, it was often overshadowed by shame. One woman expressed:
I don’t want to be in jail and my son coming to visit. I don’t want that, you know? I wanna be a normal
mom. It’s not his fault that I’m being a screw-up. But he’s paying the price. It’s hard. It’s hard to watch
your child cry when they have to take him through the door, to go somewhere else. I don’t want some-
body else raising my boy, that’s my baby!So I’m fighting really hard to get him and I’m fighting really
hard to stay off the drugs. That’s all I have to do ... That’s what the programmers keep telling me; it’s
up to me and that when I use I am failing my kids and when I’m clean I can be a mother again, they talk
about that a lot. And being a mother makes me feel like a woman. I feel whole, when I’m with my chil-
dren. I don’t feel that way when I’m not with them, you know? It’s weird. I feel complete when I’m with
my children [emphasis added]. And when something like this is going on, I’m, I’m lost.
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This participant referred to her maternal role as the central motivator for her healing from drug use.
Being a mother and using drugs caused feelings of shame and often impacted the women’s actions.
For example, one woman stated: ‘I gave up my children because I thought I wasn’t good enough [to
be a mother].’
When discussing motherhood, the women expressed little understanding about the impacts of
colonization. For example, residential schooling was not widely discussed within families and
communities, so the link to the intergenerational impacts of parenting skills and their transmission
was not readily made. With this in mind, there is also a need for caution in treatment or other pro-
gramming in identifying Aboriginal women’s historical role as a caregiver. Given that many par-
ticipants had lost custody of their children, such discussions may incite additional feelings of
shame for not living up to that cultural role.
This is who I am: Notes on (re)claiming an empowered
cultural identity
Having a cultural foundation is essential to building a healthy sense of self for Indigenous people
(Dell et al., 2011). A woman who completed treatment stated: ‘To heal is finding that balance—
mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.’ The women who completed treatment spoke of
the need to construct an identity that is not based on their past behaviour. One treatment provider
How can one feel good about oneself if they are not connected to who they are or their place or purpose
on earth—all of which is known through one’s spirit. Focusing on the strengths of an individual through
spiritual connection and identity development is very powerful and changes the low self-esteem to a
strength-based perspective that is focused on the individual’s unique gifts and characteristics as they
are given by the Creator ... a complete shift from self-loathing.
(Re)claiming a cultural identity helps to combat the negative impacts (e.g., self-loathing) of
stigma. At the heart of (re)claiming this aspect of identity is the development of pride and the for-
feiting of shame associated with being an Aboriginal woman. A positive effect of participating in
cultural programming was that the women embraced their culture and history; this was consistent
across the women’s stories. One woman who completed treatment reflected upon the impact of this
I knew who I was but it wasn’t until much later, probably into my sobriety that I actually learned about
who I was and where I come from and how important that is to me now, you know, like knowing my
culture, learning my language, the songs; it means so much to me now ... Well, I come from a matri-
lineal society and, you know, they always talk about the strengths of, the women are always the back-
bone of the community and we don’t need to be out in the front but we’re always behind supporting and
we’re the ones who are nurturing. Yeah, I’m really proud of who I am and where I come from and, you
know, I have a responsibility as an Aboriginal woman; as a mother; as a daughter; as a sister.
The presence of a cultural identity helped to ward off the negative impacts of societal stigma attrib-
uted to Aboriginality. For our participants, once an Aboriginal cultural identity was (re)claimed, it
helped to alleviate feelings of loneliness and being lost, which initially contributed to their use of
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drugs and subsequent criminalization. The women described this process as one of coming full
It is important to note that while the women self-identified in harmful ways (as dirty, squaw,
addict, alcoholic, or offender), they would oftentimes counter these constructions with expressions
of hope for the future. The depth of these harmful self-identities ranged among the women who
shared their stories, but it is noteworthy that they were evident to some extent in nearly all of their
narratives. For example, one woman stated:
... I fight with myself, I literally fight with myself, you know, like there’s ... two of me ... the new
one and the one that wants to drink, the one that wants to do drugs ... and there is like this part of me
that [is] trying to open, trying to say no more, you know .... I know there is two people in me, the one
that’s been abused so much and don’t care, that don’t give a shit about anybody around her ... [B]ut
then [there’s] the stronger one.
Maintaining this kind of hope is critical to a woman’s ability to move forward in her life and on her
healing journey. Taking the findings presented here about the need to strengthen cultural identity,
we conclude with a brief discussion of two innovative methods of knowledge sharing that may
assist Aboriginal women to heal from drug use. The first resides at the individual level and assists
women in (re)claiming a strong and valued cultural identity; the second is an entry point to the
structural level and draws on Christie’s (1986b) original work that suggests individuals must
understand the experiential realities of others in order to evoke wider social change.
Self-identity can yield power just as it can be the basis for inequality (Bobb-Smith, 2003: 36). Sub-
sequently, the transformative power of self-identity can incite strategies of resistance and survival
or defeatist feelings and inaction (Bobb-Smith, 2003). In order to conduct research as praxis, our
team developed a workshop that introduces the value of (re)claiming a strong cultural identity as an
Aboriginal woman, which supports her efforts to foster change at the individual level. To reduce
the potential for causing further harm, it was important that we: (a) raise awareness and provide a
legitimate space for women to vocalize their experiences of victimization; (b) not focus on the drug
user or offender identity if they do not associate with it; (c) recognize drug use as a survival beha-
viour; and (d) combat feelings of shame associated with being a mother and using drugs. We began
this effort by creating From Stilettos to Moccasins: A Guide for Group Discussion#, which offers
a structured half-day workshop on identity, stigma, and healing. This guide includes exploration
exercises and guiding questions, which are designed to promote self and group reflection, dialogue
and support, and to offer hope and inspiration to women in treatment and in the transition back to
their communities from addiction treatment.
While individual transformation is certainly important in Aboriginal women’s efforts to combat
victimization associated with their drug use and criminalization, Christie (1986a) argues that to
enact social change we must also dismantle long held oppressive beliefs about ideal victimhood.
As Smolej (2010: 71) writes, ‘Contemporary narratives not only invite but actively encourage peo-
ple to identify and empathize with victims of crime’; however, this is largely dependent on how
victimhood is interpreted. Similarly, Balfour (2008: 115) states: ‘I suggest that Aboriginal
women’s narratives of violence and social exclusion could become ‘subversive stories’ that chal-
lenge the ‘hegemonic tales’ of the squaw narrative that has operated to justify the coercive
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punishment of Aboriginal women’. Ignoring or silencing their voices is but one factor in the
ongoing denial of Aboriginal women’s victimhood. With this in mind, our team worked to develop
a method that would help others ‘walk in the women’s shoes for greater understanding’; the result
was the creation of a song and music video.
Approximately 30 members of our research team and the women who shared their stories
worked with Violet Naytowhow, a Woodland Cree singer/songwriter, to draft lyrics to reflect the
women’s voices. Our goal was to draft a song literally to hear the women heal so their stories
could educate others with their strength, wisdom, and knowledge. The song and video, From Sti-
lettos to Moccasins, reflects the stages of the healing journey, namely, where the women have
been, where the women are now, and where the women are going. To reach as broad an audience
as possible, the video was uploaded onto YouTube;
to date, it has had over 20,000 views. In addi-
tion, we distributed over 10,000 copies of the DVD to treatment centres, at conferences, and to
various community organizations. This song allows us to send a message of hope and transforma-
tion to a much broader audience than traditional scholarly publications.
Despite histories of victimization, including the oppressive discourses and state practices that
continue to construct them as expected offenders, Aboriginal women’s ability to (re)claim an
empowered cultural identity facilitated their healing from problematic drug use. In (re)claiming
their cultural identity, participants were more able to accept their victimization and move forward
along their healing journey. By re-centering their voices, our research worked to assist Aboriginal
women to foster individual transformative changes and to broaden social awareness of their victi-
mization and its relationship to their criminalization. Christie’s (1986a) seminal work in the field
of critical victimology continues to shed light on how only certain individuals are understood as
ideal or accepted victims. Partially due to the fact that drug use is commonly seen as a victimless
crime, contemporary state discourses preclude the drug user as a victim of state (non-)responses.
However, failing to conceptualize Aboriginal women’s pathways to using drugs and to recognize
the subsequent victimizationcriminalization continuum (Balfour, 2008) only contributes to
ongoing state punishment (and thus victimization) without hope for transformative change.
1. ‘Aboriginal peoples is a collective term for all of the original peoples of Canada and their descendants
(National Aboriginal Health Organization, 2003). The Constitution Act of 1982 identifies three Aboriginal
groups: Indians (First Nations), Inuit and Me´tis. First Nations generally applies to both Status Indians
(recognized under the Indian Act by the Government of Canada and entitled to certain rights and benefits
under the law), and Non-Status Indians (not recognized under the Indian Act for whatever reason, such as
status cannot be proven or status rights have been lost). Inuit are the Aboriginal people of Arctic Canada.
The Indian Act does not apply to Inuit; however, in 1939 the Supreme Court of Canada interpreted the
federal government’s power to make laws affecting ‘‘Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians’ as
extending to Inuit. Me´tis are people with mixed First Nations and European ancestry who identify them-
selves as Me´tis’ (Dell and Lyons, 2007: 3).
2. The Correctional Services of Canada (1990) federal policy document for women’s corrections, Creating
Choices, proposed the construction of four regional facilities and an Aboriginal healing lodge. It recom-
mended the development of women-centred correctional programs and the establishment of a community
integration strategy. Like reports before it, it urged the closure of the Prison for Women.
3. This is an important point to which we return in the second empirical half of this article.
4. With the goal of reducing provincial and territorial incarceration, Bill C-41 created a new sentencing dis-
position that was available to courts for low-risk offenders sentenced to less than two years. In place of
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serving a sentence of imprisonment, it was possible for the sentence to be served under community
supervision. For example, alternatives to incarceration for low-risk offenders include victim restitution and
community service orders. Alternatives to incarceration for First Nations and Me´tis adhere to the principle
of restorative justice and include circle sentencing and family group conferencing.
5. The Canadian Human Rights Commission (2003) investigated systemic discrimination in correctional ser-
vices for federally sentenced women in Canada.
6. This Bill is one of more than a dozen introduced by Canada’s newly elected conservative majority gov-
ernment as ‘tough on crime’ omnibus legislation.
7. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has a mandate to learn and to inform all Canadians
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... James has also pointed out that, though there are more women leaders in the cannabis industry as compared to other industries, women continue to represent a minority of the leaders in the cannabis sector. Dell and Kilty's (2013) research on Aboriginal women drug users in Canada describes the influence of race, gender and class that contribute to the stereotype of the "expected offender" image imposed upon Aboriginal women. Dell and Kilty's work demonstrates the role of colonization and ongoing marginalization that perpetuates a societal distrust of Aboriginal female drug users. ...
... Unlike their male or racialized counterparts, women, and specifically white women, do not fit the visual image of the stoner stereotype or the racialized criminal gang image of the presumed cannabis dealer, a privilege that is not afforded to communities of colour or Indigenous persons as we have seen (Dell & Kilty, 2013). During our interview, Watermelon described the ways in which she consciously used her white femininity to her advantage when it came to her illegal involvement in the cannabis industry. ...
... Watermelon acknowledged that "if I was a guy that would have been a very different situation." I would further the argument by suggesting that if Watermelon was a woman of colour, it would have also been a very different situation (Boyd, 2015;Dell & Kilty, 2013). ...
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The legitimate cannabis industry is in its developmental stages across North America, leading some to claim that this industry will be a "blue skies market for women" where they will have unfettered opportunities to take on influential and entrepreneurial roles. This discourse, however, ignores the reality that the cannabis industry is just as shaped by gender and intersectional inequalities as other more established industries. Drawing on interviews with five women leaders from various cannabis sectors in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, I explore how gender, racialization, and class operate in this increasingly corporatized sector and how white, heteronormative femininity has been used to normalize cannabis consumption
... It just was a bit discouraging that it took this much to heal. This collaborator's quote makes visible what she believes lies behind multiple healthcare practitioners' harmful treatment towards her, the distilling of her from a dynamic, complex person to a stereotype that frames Indigenous women as hypersexual and irresponsible (Dell & Kilty, 2012;Denison et al., 2014;Million, 2013;Simpson, 2017). In response to providers subjecting her to judgment and stereotyping, this collaborator avoided healthcare to protect herself from further harm. ...
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This analysis of urban Indigenous women’s experiences on the Homeland of the Métis and Treaty One (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), Treaty Four (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), and Treaty Six (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada) territories illustrates that Indigenous women have recently experienced coercion when interacting with healthcare and social service providers in various settings. Drawing on analysis of media, study conversations, and policies, this collaborative, action-oriented project with 32 women and Two-Spirit collaborators demonstrated a pattern of healthcare and other service providers subjecting Indigenous women to coercive practices related to tubal ligations, long-term contraceptives, and abortions. We foreground techniques Indigenous women use to assert their rights within contexts of reproductive coercion, including acts of refusal, negotiation, and sharing community knowledge. By recognizing how colonial relations shape Indigenous women’s experiences, decision-makers and service providers can take action to transform institutional cultures so Indigenous women can navigate their reproductive decision-making with safety and dignity.
... Offline, testimonial injustices are reflected in the overrepresentation of marginalised groups in crime reports (Dell and Kilty 2012), the under-representation and erasure of marginalised victims in these same reports, and the unresponsiveness, lesser response or wrong kind of response to these individuals as would-be victims (Martin and Powell 1994). Online, testimonial injustices are reflected in internet memes that 'disproportionately' mark marginalised minority identities as 'objects of derision and contestation, while dominant identities and ideologies often pass invisible as the accepted, implicit norm' (Milner 2016:120). ...
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In the wake of 'Black Lives Matter' , this paper examines the concept of testimonial injustice and the prejudicial stances held towards victims that diminishes the credibility of their claims and the social support they receive from the public. To explore this concept, the following work revisits the widely parodied U.S. originating broadcast news report, The Bed Intruder. In the broadcast, victims of a home invasion and attempted rape deliver a public call that outlines the conditions of their victimhood and the potential threat to the community. A rhetorical stylistic analysis of the victims' testimonial discourse and a thematic analysis of a sample of YouTube videos that reappropriate and parody their discourse are conducted. The analyses highlight the memetic elements of the video parodies that acknowledge the victimisation and yet strategically misconstrue events in ways that 1) render the victims and their claims less credible and 2) fail to provide them with the moral concern such an acknowledgement deserves.
... For these women, not only were they cast as personally irresponsible, but also morally reprehensible as actual or potential mothers. As the potential bearers of future citizens, their criminalization hinged as much (if not more) on their 'crimes' against national health through the ostensible violence and victimization they brought upon their children or foetuses (Dell and Kilty, 2012). With the War on Drugs came an even greater growth in the incarceration of racialized and Indigenous women. ...
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The summer of 2020 was one of unprecedented mass protest and a growing critical awareness around the racist operation of criminal justice systems in North America. Consequently, criminal justice systems have been placed squarely at the forefront of struggles for racial equality and social change. While activists, critical researchers, and legal experts have argued racial justice requires a diversion of communities and resources away from criminal justice systems, the focus in mainstream policy, media, and academic circles has been on reform. In Canada, a focus on reformist responses to this racial violence has been justified through a distorted view of Canada’s criminal justice system. Drawing on the concept of penal nationalism, I argue that Canadian carceral practices must be understood as constitutive of the settler-colonial state and its ideological, material and institutional mooring in racial whiteness as the locus of settler power and sovereignty. To this end, it is not enough to reform specific penal practices, while leaving intact the legitimacy of the criminal justice system in general. What is at stake is the very definition and protection of a national identity, which in the settler colony is predicated on colonial whiteness, Indigenous erasure, and racialized exploitation.
... A recent study of a low-barrier SCS in Toronto that allowed on-site smoking, for example, identified the sexual harassment of women by men within their smoking space [24]. While multiple studies have recommended the implementation of supervised inhalation services [20-22, 43, 78, 79] to address safety concerns and the experiences of racism and everyday violence among women who smoke drugs, there is also a need for culturally attentive women-only spaces [18,50,77], including non-medicalized peer-led SCS models [80], targeting Indigenous and other racialized women who continue to experience racial and stigma-based barriers to health services [81]. Research on a women-only SCS in Germany found that 80% of participants felt more safe among women compared to mixed-gender services [17], further emphasizing the need for gender-specific services for women who use drugs. ...
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Background Smoking or inhaling illicit drugs can lead to a variety of negative health outcomes, including overdose. However, most overdose prevention interventions, such as supervised consumption services (SCS), prohibit inhalation. In addition, women are underrepresented at SCS and are disproportionately impacted by socio-structural violence. This study examines women’s experiences smoking illicit drugs during an overdose epidemic, including their utilization of a women-only supervised inhalation site. Methods Qualitative research methods included on-site ethnographic observation and semi-structured interviews with 32 participants purposively recruited from the women-only site. Data were coded and analyzed using NVivo 12 and thematic analysis was informed by gendered and socio-structural understandings of violence. Results Participants had preferences for smoking drugs and these were shaped by their limited income, inability to inject, and perceptions of overdose risk. Participants expressed the need for services that attend to women’s specific experiences of gendered, race-based, and structural violence faced within and outside mixed-gender social service settings. Results indicate a need for sanctioned spaces that recognize polysubstance use and drug smoking, accommodated by the women-only SCS. The smoking environment further fostered a sociability where participants could engage in perceived harm reduction through sharing drugs with other women/those in need and were able to respond in the event of an overdose. Conclusions Findings demonstrate the ways in which gendered social and structural environments shape women’s daily experiences using drugs and the need for culturally appropriate interventions that recognize diverse modes of consumption while attending to overdose and violence. Women-only smoking spaces can provide temporary reprieve from some socio-structural harms and build collective capacity to practice harm reduction strategies, including overdose prevention. Women-specific SCS with attention to polysubstance use are needed as well as continued efforts to address the socio-structural harms experienced by women who smoke illicit drugs.
Objective: The purpose of this scoping review was to systematically identify and describe literature that uses a health equity-oriented approach for preventing and reducing the harms of stigma or overdose for people who use illicit drugs or misuse prescription opioids. Inclusion criteria: To be included, papers had to both: i) use a health equity-oriented approach, defined as a response that addresses health inequities and aims to reduce drug-related harms of stigma or overdose; and ii) include at least one of the following concepts: cultural safety, trauma- and violence-informed care, or harm reduction. We also looked for papers that included an Indigenous-informed perspective in addition to any of the three concepts. Methods: An a priori protocol was published and the JBI methodology for conducting scoping reviews was employed. Published and unpublished literature from January 1, 2000, to July 31, 2019, was included. The databases searched included CINAHL (EBSCOhost), MEDLINE (Ovid), Academic Search Premier (EBSCOhost), PsycINFO (EBSCOhost), Sociological Abstracts and Social Services Abstracts (ProQuest), JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, PROSPERO, Aboriginal Health Abstract Database, First Nations Periodical Index, and the National Indigenous Studies Portal. The search for unpublished studies included ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, Google Scholar, and targeted web searches. Screening and data extraction were performed by two reviewers using templates developed by the authors. Data extraction included specific details about the population, concepts, context, and key findings or recommendations relevant to the review objectives. Results: A total of a total of 1065 articles were identified and screened, with a total of 148 articles included. The majority were published in the previous five years (73%) and were from North America (78%). Most articles only focused on one of the three health equity-oriented approaches, most often harm reduction (n = 79), with only 16 articles including all three. There were 14 articles identified that also included an Indigenous-informed perspective. Almost one-half of the papers were qualitative (n = 65; 44%) and 26 papers included a framework. Of these, seven papers described a framework that included all three approaches, but none included an Indigenous-informed perspective. Recommendations for health equity-oriented approaches are: i) inclusion of people with lived and living experience; ii) multifaceted approaches to reduce stigma and discrimination; iii) recognize and address inequities; iv) drug policy reform and decriminalization; v) ensure harm-reduction principles are applied within comprehensive responses; and vi) proportionate universalism. Gaps in knowledge and areas for future research are discussed. Conclusions: We have identified few conceptual frameworks that are both health equity-oriented and incorporate multiple concepts that could enrich responses to the opioid poisoning emergency. More research is required to evaluate the impact of these integrated frameworks for action.
Background Due to prohibitionist policies and practices, a poisoned illegal drug supply, and inadequate access to flexible substitution programs, Canada is currently experiencing the worst illegal drug overdose death epidemic in its history. In examining past policies, practices, and discourse that support heroin regulation and drug prohibition, the drivers of the current illegal drug overdose death epidemic in Canada are brought more clearly into focus. Methods This article provides a critical socio-historical analysis of heroin (opioid) regulation with a focus on Canadian federal and provincial policies in the province of B.C., especially the city of Vancouver. Drawing from primary and secondary sources, this article provides a critical socio-historical analysis of heroin (opioid) regulation in Canada. Results Examining Canada's history of heroin criminalization provides a window to understand the systemic discrimination against people who use illegal heroin and other opioids. From its inception, heroin prohibition has worked to brutally punish a small segment of the population, especially those who are poor, racialized, and gendered. Negative heroin discourse and stereotyping about people who use heroin had an effect, shaping drug law, policing, prisons, and policy and treatment options. Conclusion Little attention has been given to the increase in heroin possession offences across Canada over nine consecutive years and the lack of heroin substitution programs. Resistance to drug prohibition and criminal approaches to drug use emerged in the 1950s and continue today. Those most affected by drug policies demand inclusion and representation, access to a legal heroin supply, and the establishment and maintenance of heroin buyer clubs, contesting the very foundations of drug control in the twenty-first century.
The discourse of murdered and missing Indigenous women (MMIW) from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is shaped by ugliness. From the frequent invocation of the colonial stereotype of the licentious and sexually deviant “Indian squaw” to the fetishization of the violence committed against these women, ugliness shapes all aspects of the mediation of Indigenous women’s disappearances. Settler colonial labels of “degeneracy” and “prostitute” are the most common shared ugly identities placed on MMIW in public discourse. There is a common conflation of a missing or murdered Indigenous woman with sex work, drug addiction, criminality and homelessness. All of these conflations hinge on the notion of “high risk” and ugly behaviours. Ugliness is essential to the symbolic and discursive violence found in the mediation of MMIW as amoral, criminal, animalistic, volatile and deviant others. Ugliness allows for a subordination of MMIW by placing them far outside the borders of dominant society. This chapter illustrates how the politics of ugliness have long aided and abetted the settler colonial project in Canada and how ugliness continues to shape the mediation of Indigenous missing and murdered women in mainstream media. By invoking a visual critical discourse analysis, it examines how missing and murdered Indigenous women are framed in missing posters published by the police.
PURPOSE: To describe bullying in stuttering patients/students, their socio-demographic variables, family relationships, characterization and feelings of violence at school and characteristics by local, practitioners and target. METHODS: 23 participants, aged 10-17, male and female, with stuttering diagnosis, followed by specialized clinic at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro were analyzed. Patients with behavior alterations or understanding and cognition disorders or without regular attendance were excluded. RESULTS: Around 40% of the patients informed that they are well treated by the colleagues; 34.8% reported feel rejected and 29.16% suffer at school. More than 80% have good relationship with parents and more than 70% live with them. 34.8% failed. 13% witnessed aggression at home, 8.7% saw colleagues with stylet at school and 4.3% firearm. 40% suffered threat of physical violence outside the classroom, nearly 80% avenged the aggressors. 78.3% are skeptical of violence resolution. Just over a quarter proved bullied. A fifth reported having no special friend and 13% feel well with 2 or 3, while 4.3% don't have friends. 13% suffered verbal aggression in school and 4.3% physical, almost 9% both. Almost 80% deny having teased others, while a fourth tease. CONCLUSIONS: The results turn to the development of defensive strategies to attacks, encouraging self-esteem and sense of equality to others.
In her penetrating analysis of the emergence of child abuse as a social issue and its rapid placement on the policy agenda, Barbara Nelson (1984) borrowed from electoral research a distinction between ‘valence issues’ and ‘position issues’. A valence issue, she explains, is one that elicits a single, strong, fairly uniform emotional response and does not have an adversarial quality. Position issues, on the other hand, do not elicit a single response but instead engender alternative and sometimes highly conflictual responses. In other words, valence issues are consensual issues whereas position issues are largely conflictual and confrontational ones.
It is often useful within the social sciences to rely on personal experiences, or at least take this as our point of departure. So, given the challenge to lecture on the topic “Society and the victim,” I started out with some reflections on my own past history. Had I ever been a victim, and if so, when and how? And I will ask you in this audience to engage in the same exercise. Have you ever been victims? When was that? Where was it? What characterized the situation? How did you react? How did your surroundings react? Maybe I could ask you to scribble down just a few words from your own personal histories as a victim, not for my use, but for your own. Such personal memories might prove valuable during my presentation, and particularly during our later discussions.