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Oppression and Resistance at Canada's Prison for Women
KINGSTON, ONTARIO - On February 12, 1991, Lorna Jones, a native prisoner, was found hanging in her cell. Her's was the fifth suicide by a native prisoner at the Prison for Women (P4W) in the last 18 months. Lorna had been serving a two-year sentence for robbery and was due to be paroled in August.
On Wednesday, Feb. 13, 1991, with grief and anger over the death running high, especially for the prison conditions that drive prisoners to suicide, a group 20 prisoners on "A" range refused orders to return their cells, they blockaded a range and undertook the destruction of furniture, windows, etc.
The resistance was ended by the prison's riot squad using dogs, gas and physically subduing the women prisoners. The prison was locked down and at least 11 of the women involved were put in the hole where some were kept naked in tiny, cold concrete cells, one woman had an asthma attack and languished three hours before receiving medical attention. The women involved are also facing numerous charges including rioting, destruction of government property, disobedience, assault and uttering a death threat. For their defiance and resistance to the conditions that are slowly murdering them they face increase harassment and repression.
On Feb. 8, 1991, there had been a vigil outside the prison by approximately 30 people protesting the inhumane conditions within the prison. Prison officials refused to meet with the group and one spokesperson stated he believed the fact that t women dying were largely native had little to do with the suicides.
To better understand the oppression of native peoples in Canada, not just in prison, the following excerpts from the Native Womens Association of Canada is helpful:
The death rate for aboriginal people is 11-1/2 times higher than for non-aboriginal people, for those under 35 the rate is triple.
In Alberta, 30% of the prisoners are native while only 4% of the population is native. In 1985, 60% of violent offenses by women were all domestic disputes, the "victim" was usually abusive spouse or common law partner.
Twice as many native women serve time as native men.
Native people make up 3% of the total population in Canada but 16% of all federal prisoners are native. Native people in Canada have a better chance of going to jail or committing suicide than they do graduating from high school.
"Our understanding of law, courts, police, judicial system and of prison are all set by lifetimes defined by racism. Culturally, economically and as people we have been oppressed and pushed aside by whites. We were sent to live on reserves that denied us livelihood, controlled us with rules we did not set, and made us dependent on services we could not provide for ourselves. The Indian agent and police are for us administrators of oppressive regimes whose authority we resent and deny. Like other people around the world who live under illegitimate political structures, we learn that the rules imposed by this authority exist to be broken, that they are not our ways, that they are only the outside and not the inside measure of the way a person should act." "For aboriginal women, prison is an extension of life on the outside, and because of this, it is impossible for us to heal there. Prisons offer more white authority that is sexist, racist and violent. Prisons are then one more focus for the pain and rage we carry. For us, prison rules have the same illegitimacy as the oppressive rules under which we grew up. It is racism, past in our memories and present in our surroundings, that negates non-native attempts to reconstruct our lives."
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