Inquiry design meeting #7: January 14-15, 2016, Prince George, British Columbia
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held its seventh engagement meeting in Prince George, British Columbia, January 14-15, 2016. This pre-inquiry meeting included survivors, families and loved ones and front-line organizations. Their experiences, views and contributions will 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.
Elders arrived and prepared the space for the first day which comprised a registration and orientation session 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 by all of them.
The second day was dedicated to how the inquiry should be designed. The day opened and closed with traditional ceremonies consisting of a blanket ceremony, prayers and singing. Those in attendance acknowledged and honoured the women and girls who were murdered and who are still missing.
The Minister of Justice, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Status of Women heard about the effects of this violence on the families of victims and their communities and of Indigenous women who had experienced violence and survived.
Participants in the Prince George session stressed the importance of making sure that families, loved ones and survivors and front-line organizations are involved throughout the design of the Inquiry.
Survivors, families and loved ones of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls attended he pre-Inquiry meeting. There were also a number of representatives of front-line organizations. Also in attendance were:
- The Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
- The Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
- The Hon. Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women
- Todd Doherty, Member of Canadian Parliament representing Cariboo-Prince George, British Columbia
Officials from Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Justice and Status of Women were present throughout the day.
Close to 80 survivors, family members and loved ones and representatives from front-line organizations participated from several Indigenous communities. Elders 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 who should lead the inquiry included the need to consider having a panel/taskforce/advisory group of three to four persons. Some felt the panel should be gender balanced, while others thought it should be led by Indigenous women. Some participants said it should reflect the diversity of Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit and the Four Directions. Some suggested it be guided by a group of advisors made up of survivors, family members and elders.
- participants also recommended the following be represented in the leadership of the Inquiry:
- international representatives and experts (e.g., United Nations Special Rapporteur)
- objective, independent, arms-length from government
- expertise in investigation, research and policy
- Indigenous leader who will ensure Indigenous families feel safe and supported in the process
Participants also identified which groups should have a chance to take part in the Inquiry:
- family members and other loved ones, including children of missing and murdered Indigenous women
- Indigenous women and girls who are survivors of violence
- Elders and grandparents
- Healers, counsellors and traditional faith keepers
- chiefs and other Indigenous leaders
- Women's organizations and other front-line workers
- police, including RCMP, provincial, municipal and Indigenous police forces, and criminal justice personnel
- provincial/territorial governments
- religious organizations
- legal and other experts
Participants stressed the importance of involving a broad range of survivors, families and loved ones, without a time limiting period (i.e., anyone who has a loved one who has been murdered or gone missing in any timeframe) and understanding the broad definition of family in Indigenous cultures. In meeting with families, participants indicated the Inquiry must go across Canada, and to isolated communities, and provide:
- safety by creating a safe place for families to share their stories, and supporting them to be safe after they share their experiences
- access for those who may not be easy to reach (e.g., those currently living on the street)
- sufficient resourcing and financial support to enable participation
- supports to participants (health, linguistic, social and cultural), before, during and after they participate
Priorities and key issues
Participants identified the issues the Inquiry must address if it is to produce recommendations for specific actions. These issues include:
- causes of violence
- impacts of the residential school system, including on parenting
- impacts of abuse, including sexual abuse
- systemic racism, stigma and stereotypes
- problems associated with intergovernmental relationships
- legal reforms (laws and justice system)
- child and family/child welfare policies and practices
- police protocols, including how and when to report a missing person, response time, and length of time spent actively investigating a case
- communication, information sharing and follow up with families
- culturally responsive education and training for police, criminal justice personnel, health workers, child and family services, and others
- support and training for communities to support search and rescue efforts
- transportation safety needs, including along remote highways
- inequities in treatment of cases of murdered Indigenous and non-Indigenous women, including in sentencing and parole
- impacts of losing a mother on children left behind, and ways to support children and the family members (including grandparents) who care for them
- impacts of addictions and ways to address addictions
- ways to support Indigenous women off-reserve
- ways to make services more culturally safe for marginalized individuals and decrease barriers to access
- ways to better coordinate services
- ways to increase the capacity of First Nations
- ways to educate youth, including to prevent violence and increase their safety
- ways to educate Canadians
- ways to support families to heal and deal with trauma
Participants want the inquiry's final report to include recommendations that are specific, and will lead to actions that can and will be implemented. They called for specific recommendations aimed at:
- various levels of government and across different systems
- justice system and law enforcement officials
- Canadian citizens
In general, the participants agreed that there are a range of issues that need to be addressed in order to create a better future for Indigenous peoples and for Canada. They stressed it will be important to ensure that the Inquiry leads to concrete calls to action and outcomes that can be measured over time.
Support and Cultural practices
Participants stressed the need to include traditional practices and ceremonies in the inquiry process, similar to those that are proposed in the pre-inquiry process. Participants said it will be important to provide counselling and other types of support to help families to prepare for the process, and during their participation in the inquiry. They also said families should also be connected to elders and local organizations to receive support after their participation in the inquiry.
Recommendations about how to include cultural practices and ceremony include:
- ensuring respect for local traditional and cultural ceremonies
- creating a cultural advisory group within each community, including traditional healers
- holding meetings within a circle to acknowledge the Four Directions
- ensuring Elders are part of the process
Throughout, there should be efforts to provide families with sufficient notice to prepare for the Inquiry and tools created to explain the process to families.
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 build on existing knowledge and information, including from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and international examinations of Canada's response to missing and murdered Indigenous women.
- The inquiry needs to be open and transparent.
- The process should be guided by a set of principles and a clear mandate based on mutual recognition, respect and responsibility.
- The inquiry should be connected to broader efforts aimed at decolonization.
- The process should include Canada taking responsibility for what has occurred as part of the national healing process.
- The process should change the way Indigenous women are valued in Canadian society.
- The process should focus on prevention and healing.
- The process should include a thorough investigation of cold cases, and a review of how evidence and remains are handled.
- Acknowledge missing men and boys.
- Be based in facts and evidence.
- Be used to educate Canadians about what happened and why and as a way to record history.
- Not be "top heavy" or focused on lawyers and instead involve elders, youth and First Nations people.
- The process should consider the need for more resources to support healing for Indigenous women, children and families, and for intervention and prevention programs.