Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
The first hearing for the National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry (MMIWG) is being held in Whitehorse, Yukon this week. Much like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the National Inquiry is off to a rocky start with many high profile Indigenous women activists and leaders calling for a reset of the inquiry due to lack of communication and community outreach, unrealistic timelines, as well as a narrow scope. Other reasons cited were: no central office – lack of centralized direction, the bureaucratic presence and involvement of the Privy Council Office, and families of victims feeling that their concerns are falling on deaf ears. The first report is due November 1st and now the hearings have been postponed until the fall. While some are calling for a reset, Francyne Joe of the National Women’s Association of Canada agrees with the decision to postpone the hearings so that the Inquiry could do a better job in supporting victim’s families. In an interview with APTN Joe says, “we have been fighting for the Inquiry for far too many years to just stop it at this point.”
Hope remains that answers will be uncovered as to why Indigenous women in Canada are 5 times more likely to be murdered or go missing and to recommend concrete actions that remove systemic causes of violence while increasing the safety of Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Here are some important facts and issues emerging from the MMIWG Inquiry so far and how you can have your voice included:
The Inquiry’s Mandate
The mandate of the commission is “to examine and report on the systemic causes behind the violence that Indigenous women and girls experience” and to “examine the underlying historical, social, economic, institutional and cultural factors that contribute to the violence” including through examining “practices, policies and institutions such as policing, child welfare, coroners and other government policies/practices or social/economic conditions.” However:
The Police Will Not Be Under Investigation
Calls to investigate police conduct were made at all 18 pre-consultations the government held with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities before the Terms of Reference were announced. In an article for Rabble, Indigenous justice advocate Pam Palmater stated, “while the uncomfortable truth about police racism and sexualized violence, abuse and corruption has been in the public eye lately through media exposing the extensive nature of police abuses — Indigenous peoples have long known about this problem. We need this national inquiry to shine a light on this dark and uncomfortable truth for all to see, so we can put an end to it.”
It has been publicly noted that no Inuit commissioner was appointed to the Inquiry. Rebecca Kudloo, President of the Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada has been outspoken about the lack of Inuit representation on the Inquiry. She stated in several interviews that the Inuit are “forgotten a lot,” and at times “lumped in with First Nations,” despite having a distinct culture, way of life and separate issues. She called for a sixth Inuk commissioner to be added to the Inquiry. So far none have been appointed, although, Qajaq Robinson, who is not Inuk, grew up in Igloolik, Nunavut, speaks fluent Inuktitut, and has been a strong advocate for Northern Indigenous issues throughout her law career has. It was also recently announced that the Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada has been granted standing and funding in the National Inquiry.
The Chief Commissioner Has A Personal Connection
In an interview with Huffington Post, Chief Commissioner, Marion Buller, shared her personal connection to the MMIWG Inquiry. “I know of people who have gone missing and I know people who have been murdered, specifically Aboriginal women and girls,” Buller stated, “When I look back at girls and teenagers from growing up on the prairies, we’re not all there anymore, some of us are gone.” Growing up, Buller spent her summers in Mistawasis First Nation, Saskatchewan before becoming BC’s first Indigenous female judge. To learn more about the Buller and the other commissioners go to: www.cbc.ca/news/politics/profile-commissioners-mmiw
The Summer Break
The remainder of the hearings have now been suspended until the fall with dates for new hearings to be announced later this summer. In an open letter, Chief Commissioner Buller said throughout the summer, staff from the Inquiry will make more informal community visits to prepare and set up culturally safe accommodations for the hearings in each community. Buller also stated that the Inquiry will also be listen to an “expert panel hearing on Indigenous legal traditions and decolonizing approaches” to “provide us with a framework for our first report in November.”
Hearings vs. Community Visits (former Regional Meetings)
Hearings are where the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women will give their testimony to the Commissioners. Community visits will be held during the summer months, so the Inquiry can gather information on the proper format, protocols and the best way to collect testimonies. The community visits are to ensure that each hearing reflects the land, people and customs of that region.
How To Get Your Testimony Heard
To give testimony at one of the hearings held across the country this fall, email Profile@mmiwg-ffada.ca with your contact information and location so that someone from the Inquiry can contact you. The official MMIWG Inquiry website stated that they also need more details about the loved one you will be giving testimony on behalf of. Future dates for fall hearings have yet to be announced. For more details go to: www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/en/start-the-healing/
What is Standing?
Applying for Standing with the Inquiry is applying for rights beyond the rights to testify. Some rights include, the right to make a statement at the closing of the hearings, request the Inquiry’s lawyers show specific evidence, to cross witnesses at institutional and organizations or expert witness hearings and to access specific documents sometimes in advance. The deadline to apply for Standing was April 18, 2017. In Buller’s last open letter, she stated that the Inquiry plans to create a second opportunity to apply for Standing in the fall. Those dates will be announced “well in advance” and “will set out processes in plain language.”
The Inquiry is Inclusionary
Before colonization, many Indigenous communities did not have the gender norms that European settlers imposed through assimilation tactics and Christianity. The official MMIWG Inquiry website states that they are including heterosexual women, two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and those with disabilities or special needs as ‘women and girls’.
While officially not part of the Inquiry
No More Silence (NMS) a community based inter/national network that supports the work being done by activists, academics, researchers, agencies and communities to stop the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women recently launched this important resource video to support the families who have family members who are missing and they also hold a community-led database.