The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held its fourth engagement meeting in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, on Thursday and Friday, January 7-8, 2016. This pre-inquiry meeting included survivors, families and loved ones. Their experiences, views and contributions will be used to help design the inquiry
A summary of the meeting is provided below. The summary is not a complete account of the discussions. Instead, it highlights the key themes that emerged from this engagement meeting. Read a copy of the discussion guide used at this meeting or complete the on-line survey to share your own views.
The engagement meeting was held over two days with the first day being a preparation day.
An Elder arrived and prepared the space for the first day which comprised an orientation session and a sharing circle where survivors, families and loved ones shared their personal stories associated with violence against Indigenous women and girls. The effects of this violence were discussed as well as the journey towards healing.
The second day was dedicated to how the inquiry should be designed. The day opened and closed with traditional ceremonies, including explanations about the signification of these ceremonies for the Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Territories. Drumming was performed and welcoming speeches were held. Those in attendance acknowledged and honoured the women and girls who were murdered and who are still missing. Prayers were also offered for those most affected by these tragedies.
The Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and her parliamentary secretary heard about the effects of this violence on the families of victims and their communities.
Participants in the Yellowknife session mentioned the importance of making sure that families are involved throughout the design of the inquiry.
Survivors, families and loved ones of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls attended the pre-inquiry meeting. There were also representatives of front-line organizations. Also in attendance were:
- The Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
- Yvonne Jones, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
- Michael McLeod, Member of Canadian Parliament representing the Northwest Territories
Officials from Indigenous and Northern Affairs were present throughout the day.
Close to 100 family members and loved ones participated from several Indigenous communities. An Elder and health support workers were also present to provide a safe and supportive environment for discussions.
Leadership and participation
Two questions were asked about who should lead and who should take part in the inquiry. The views on leadership included the need to have:
- A panel or committee with regional representation, particularly to represent northern regions
- Clear leadership role and a strong voice assigned to Indigenous peoples
- Proper representation of the diversity of Indigenous peoples and communities
- A key role given to an educated Indigenous woman who has adequate experience, both professionally and personally
- Someone with lived experience of having to deal with the murder or disappearance of a loved one
- A capacity to incorporate Indigenous knowledge
- Independence from Government and from political organizations but with support from both
- Indigenous and Northern Affairs as the lead federal department going forward
- Open communications so that relevant information is shared with the appropriate level of government
- Representation of the families, including the creation of a parents’ committee
- Representation from front-line services
Participants also identified which groups should have a chance to take part in the inquiry:
- Immediate loved ones and family of the victims as well as extended family
- Women and girls who are at risk
- First Nations governments as they must take on some of the responsibilities
- Police, including Indigenous police officer
- Families of perpetrators
- Medical and education staff as well as victim service providers
- Skilled and experienced Indigenous legal experts and professionals
- Women’s groups
Participants stressed the importance of involving survivors, families and loved ones. To make this possible, participants said the inquiry must:
- Provide a safe space for all, showing care, compassion, love, patience and respect
- Be opened to hearing the perspectives of Indigenous peoples
- Be respectful of Indigenous ways of thinking and methods
- Provide supports to participants with attention paid to the trauma that participation may bring back to the surface
- Ensure that family and loved ones have sufficient time to prepare and to get organized
- Establish preparation sessions where families can get together, share their stories and express their grief
- Involve Indigenous peoples in the analysis of the information to be gathered
- Keep Indigenous people informed throughout the process
- Provide financial support for participants, including compensation if time needs to be taken off work to participate
- Guide loved ones and families throughout the process
- Provide information on how to get help and support locally if people have to deal with negative emotions after their participation in the inquiry
Priorities and key issues
Participants identified the issues the Inquiry must address if it is to produce recommendations for specific actions. These issues include:
- Policing, considering both the positive aspects of the work they do and the elements that could be improved
- Particular attention required on the issue of communications and relationship between police services and communities
- Mental health and addictions, particularly the adequacy of treatment
- Issues tied to the appropriate funding of local and culturally appropriate counselling programs and services
- Poverty and homelessness
- Including different methods of inquiry to reflect the complexity of the issues behind violence
- The availability of counseling for people who are prone to violence as well as for the victims, and families of victims
- Regional differences and particular geographic realities of remote and northern communities in Canada
- The Child Welfare system
- Systemic sexism and the lack of women involved in policing
- Racism (including systemic), cultural ignorance and discrimination in accessing services
Participants want the inquiry’s final report to include recommendations for specific actions including:
- The need for various levels of governments and various jurisdictions to work together
- Addressing specific recommendations to Indigenous leadership to step up and deal with the issues
- Keeping Indigenous communities at the center of efforts and ensuring that information is continuously relayed to them
- Establishing appropriate memorials to honour the missing and murdered
- Ensuring cultural awareness and cultural competence for all services that deal with Indigenous populations
- Mechanisms to ensure healing support is provided to survivors, families and loved ones over a long term
- Teaching Indigenous youth in schools about the tragedy
- Educating the Canadian population on Indigenous issues, including the missing and murdered women and girls tragedy
- Culturally relevant treatment of addictions
- Providing parenting support for families
- Providing safety to those who are most vulnerable
In general, the participants agreed that solving the problem of violence will be a long-term process. As such, efforts to address violence will need to be monitored, measured and supported. As time passes, attention should continue to focus on the needs and concerns of survivors, families and loved ones.
Support and cultural practices
Participants outlined the need to include traditional practices and ceremonies in the inquiry process. The inquiry must also include healing processes to acknowledge and address the trauma felt by those affected.
Recommendations about how to include cultural practices and ceremony include:
- Consult with local communities and their elders on traditional knowledge
- Recognize and respect the ceremonies of each group
- Honour loved ones by including appropriate ceremonies as well as vigils
- Create sharing circles within the communities
- Promote healing practices
As well as discussing the questions listed in the discussion guide, participants were invited to share other comments and views on the design of the inquiry. These include:
- The inquiry should allow families and loved ones to achieve some level of closure. This would involve investigating further the unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls through closed private hearings.
- Making sure that families and loved ones can have access to information on the cases which concern them
- The inquiry should consider establishing a northern office to better represent these regions and reflect on their input
- The inquiry needs to create regional centers where data can be gathered, interpreted and kept
- Responsible parties should be kept informed and should take action now rather than wait until a final report is written
- The inquiry should address issues with legislation, including the Indian Act.