Broadcast: Naming commissioners for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
August 3, 2016
Sheila Karasiewicz, Thunder Mountain Singers
Gina Wilson, Associate Deputy Minister, Public Safety
Claudette Commanda, Algonquin Elder
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women
The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General
Amanda Rhéaume, Singer
Bryan Eyolfson, Commissioner, Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Marion Buller, Chief Commissioner, Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Marilyn Poitras, Commissioner, Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Michèle Audette, Commissioner, Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Charlotte Carleton, Throat-singer
Hello. (Indigenous language)
We're going to start the day off with calling in the four grandfathers. We feel it's very important to call in our ancestors to be here with us today during this very important announcement. Miigwetch.
Thank you. Thank you everyone. Thank you. Merci. Miigwetch. Qujanamiik. Marsee. Mahsi Cho.
Welcome to the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, and today's important event. My name is Gina Wilson. I'm the Associate Deputy Minister of Public Safety and I'm pleased to be here today as your emcee. I'm also a proud Algonquin mother and soon-to-be grandmother.
And I'm really pleased to see a large Algonquin presence here today, like my sisters Monique and Claudette.
Verna is here. Laurie, I know you're here. We're here with you, with our loved ones, with our families, with those who are missing and murdered. We're here with you with great love. And I also want to say welcome, (Indigenous language), bienvenue to Algonquin territory.
I'd also like to welcome all those throughout the country who are here with us today through our web broadcasting of this event.
I want to welcome everyone who is joining us from across the country to this live broadcast and stream. I'd also like to thank (Indigenous language), the Thunder Mountain Women Drum Group, Mariah Esquega, (ph) Diane Hardy and Sheila Karazawich (ph), who travelled from Thunder Bay to perform the strong woman drum song. We're here to mark a very significant step on this journey in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Yesterday, a private traditional ceremony with ministers, elders, families and many others was held to honour the spirits of those who have been missing or have been murdered.
Today, all three ministers are joining us in the context of this important announcement.
Before we begin today's announcement, I'd like to invite Algonquin Elder, my dear relative, Claudette Commanda, to provide words of prayer.
Thank you, Gina. Good morning. (Indigenous language). Bonjour.
Just because you hear the word "elder" you know, you don't have to become so solemn. (laughter) It's a beautiful day and we must rejoice in life and we all know that humour and laughter is such great medicine that the Creator has given us as well, so we can smile to one another. We can greet one another with that beautiful handshake that comes from our hearts and our spirit.
We are all here today gathered for such a momentous, historic event. Yes, at times, it will be certainly solemn, for we gather here for a very important reason, a very important reality of life, and that is to seek the justice, give the justice and honour our women, our women and girls that are missing, our women and girls that are murdered, and to stop this national tragedy and disgrace. And we are here to honour and to remember the families of those loved ones. And I give you my heart and I love you.
So to each and every one of you that are here, the families, your relatives, elders, leaders, commissioners, ministers, guests, and including the media, each and every one of us that are here, we are all here together, and I greet you on behalf of the Algonquin people with a handshake from my heart and my spirit. And we all know as First Nations people, or Indigenous peoples, we always begin our gatherings in a good way. And we must always remember the one who has put us here. We can never forget that Creator.
We must acknowledge the Creator and we must give him thanks, for it is only through the Creator's love and his strength that we can overcome barriers, injustices and hardships. And it is only through the Creator's love and strength and wisdom that you will have that wisdom and that guidance. And in the prayer that I will give, I will ask the Creator to protect the families, the loved ones, and to provide those commissioners with the strength and the insight that they will need as they embark on this journey, the journey that they've undertaken to carry the voices, the stories of the families and the loved ones and that they remember, more importantly, that they will never forget why they are in that position, and it is for the families, the families and the relatives and the communities. And to ensure that our women and our girls will no longer go missing or murdered and that our men and our boys that they too can live in a society called Canada in peace and friendship and safety. Because you see, peace, friendship and safety are gifts that the Creator's given us as human beings, to live on this earth, Mother Earth, and to celebrate life and to enjoy life. And I will ask the Creator as well to guide the ministers, to ensure that this work of the commission will be guided in a good way.
You can remain seated. And I ask the Creator that he hears my voice and I ask that you humble yourself before the Creator and all of our ancestors. Each and every one of us regardless of colour and creed, we do have ancestors. Ask your ancestors to uphold you and offer those words of prayer and thanks. I ask my ancestors to help me.
Creator, we give you thanks for the beauty of this day and we thank our grandmothers and our grandfathers of the four directions and we honour the earth our mother, and our grandmother the moon, and our grandfather the sun. Creator, we thank you for love, the love that you've blessed us with. And Creator, I ask that you protect the families, protect the families and their loved ones, and that we will always remember our sisters who are not here.
I ask, Creator, that you guide the commissioners with the wisdom and the strength that they need to embark on this journey for they will help the families. And Creator, I ask that you bless the commissioners with the guidance that they need to ensure that the voices and the spirit of the families and the loved ones are honoured. And Creator, we thank you for this day that you've given us and we ask you to bless us with many more tomorrows and that together, we come together as human beings, in peace and friendship and kindness and love, and we thank you, Creator.
Miigwetch, miigwetch, miigwetch, miigwetch
Creator, for this gift you've given us, this gift of love, of family. This is very important to help us in this process, thank you. Thank you Creator.
Thank you Creator. Thank you everyone and I love you. And remember, it is only through kindness and love that we will come together to take care of one another. Miigwetch. Thank you.
Thank you, Claudette. Thank you very much for your very, very loving, kind opening prayer.
Now, it is with great respect and honour that I introduce the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs; the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; and the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women.
I'd invite Minister Bennett to come to the mic.
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett:
Thank you. Merci. Miigwetch. Qujanamiik. Marsee. Mahsi Cho. Thank you Elder Commanda for your beautiful prayer and for welcoming us here to the unceded Algonquin territory, as you do, with such love and heart. But thank you also to the other elders, Sally and Monique and Maria and Jan, for all your guidance as we came to this ceremony and for the amazing evening last night with the families and your leadership at the spiritual ceremony later today at the Wabano. We particularly thank Sally for lighting the qulliq lamp in those times.
Thank you Gina for emceeing and the drummers for travelling here today and for the beautiful red dress that they gave all of us in celebration of this chapter of the inquiry.
It is a privilege for me to be able to count on a number of partners in this prestigious announcement. Specifically, I'd like to welcome the survivors, family members and kin who are here today.
We also want to acknowledge the leaders of the national Indigenous organizations with us today.
Thank you all for being here.
We are here to mark an important milestone for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The national inquiry is an important step in our journey on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. Today marks the official end of the pre-inquiry phase. We are handing all of the input that we've received to a national independent commission to lead the formal inquiry under Part I of the Inquiries Act. We will, in ceremony, pass on our homework to the commissioners a little later in the program.
This is an important step in a long process.
For me personally, this journey began over a decade ago when I first met with many of the families who are here with us today. Their stories about their mothers, daughters, aunties and cousins who had tragically gone missing or had been murdered were heart-wrenching. I remember the powerful Sisters In Spirit honouring ceremonies for the families held at the Native Women's Association's annual general assembly.
It's because of these courageous women and families who knew something was very wrong that we are here today, and I would ask them to stand. Laurie, lead, come on.
They knew an inquiry was needed to achieve justice and healing and to put an end to this ongoing terrible tragedy. Coast to coast to coast, it became painfully clear to many that the high rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls could not be ignored. From the early days of the NWAC faceless dolls installations to more recently, sadly, when Tina Fontaine, Loretta Saunders, Rinelle Harper became names that all Canadians understood and represented a pattern of vulnerability and injustice that had to stop.
On December 8, 2015, the Government of Canada began to take some steps. That is when we announced the striking of this inquiry, by beginning the consultations on its composition.
Over the winter and spring, many survivors, family members and loved ones, along with frontline service workers, bravely shared their voices and their thoughts about the design of this inquiry. My colleagues, the Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould; the Minister of Status of Women, Patty Hajdu, and I personally and respectfully listened. We were humbled and inspired by the candor, the wisdom and the insight and we believe that what we are announcing today will respect what we heard.
From Thunder Bay to Iqaluit, Halifax to Vancouver, we have held 18 in–person sessions. We met over 2,100 survivors, family members and kin who took part in these consultation sessions prior to the actual inquiry. Over 4,100 persons, individuals actually, took the time to share their views online. Many people found it very difficult to share their stories.
On behalf of all Canadians, we thank them for their courage and their strength. What we heard was raw and intensely personal. They left no doubt in our minds about the urgent need to examine the underlying and deep systemic challenges of this violence, including racism, sexism and the sustained impact of colonialism.
Specifically, we heard that policing and child welfare systems need to be examined. We heard that the inquiry needs to have the authority to make recommendations relevant to federal, provincial and territorial responsibility.
We were told repeatedly that the inquiry needed to be independent of government.
We were told it should not have a one-size-fits-all approach and must recognize the diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada and the regional differences. We also heard clearly that it should be Indigenous-led and that women should play a major role. We heard emphatically that the work of the commission must be trauma informed and culturally safe.
So today, I'm very proud to announce that together with all our partners we are entering the next phase of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We do believe that this next phase will honourably reflect what we heard in the pre-inquiry.
Today, I am very proud to announce that together with all our partners we are entering the next phase of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The work of the commission will be shared amongst five commissioners. We have named a chief commissioner, the Honourable Marion Buller. Judge Buller is a person of great moral character whose work I respect and admire. Her experience as a First Nations judge in the provincial criminal court system has a unique and valuable perspective to the inquiry. She exemplifies trauma-informed practice.
Judge Buller will be assisted in her work by four commissioners: Michèle Audette, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras and Brian Eyolfson. These extraordinary individuals bring a depth and mix of personal, academic and professional experience to the task of listening, documenting and seeking to bring to light the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada and to make recommendations for effective action.
They will listen, in French, English and Inuktitut, and together will apply human rights, feminist, Indigenous law and traditional knowledge lenses to the extremely difficult examination of the disproportionate violence directed at Indigenous women and girls in this country.
Today is historic. For the first time in Canadian history, all 10 provinces and three territories have formally signed on to the work of the commission of inquiry, which enables the commission to do its work without barriers.
Provinces and territories are in the process of passing orders in council that will allow this inquiry to cover matters in their jurisdiction, making this a truly national inquiry. As a result, this commission will have the authority to summon witnesses, as well as compel documents in all jurisdictions.
The terms of reference direct the commissioners first to explore systemic and underlying causes of violence.
Then they will examine the policies and practices to address violence against Indigenous women and girls. The commission will be empowered to assess the institutions as well as their practices and their policies. This includes police conduct and investigations, as well as child welfare policies and other institutions.
Third, they will recommend concrete and effective action in order to remove systemic causes of violence and to increase the safety of Indigenous women and girls.
Finally, they will recommend ways to honour and commemorate murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
We thank the national Indigenous organizations, the frontline and women workers, and the many partners for the continued collaboration over the winter and spring. I want to thank all the wise people from across this country who also have lent their advice and counsel, especially the former commissioners and Indigenous law experts that came together at the two roundtables that Osgoode Hall organized for the ministers.
We'd especially like to thank the mothers, daughters, aunts, nieces, cousins and all the family members who have continued to defend this cause and shed light on this crucial matter. I am very pleased that the commission's terms of reference testify the diversity of viewpoints expressed during the preliminary process. The comments received guided the elaboration of the terms of reference for this commission.
As we promised, as the commission beings its work, we will not wait to take immediate action on the issues on violence against Indigenous women and girls. I will now turn to my colleague, Minister Hajdu, who will provide more detail about gender-based violence and its underlying causes and share her thoughts on this important milestone.
Thank you. Merci. Miigwetch. Marsee. Mahsi Cho. Qujanamiik.
The Honourable Patty Hajdu:
Good morning everybody. Thank you all for being here and thank you Elder Commanda for your words of wisdom—you've been a steady hand throughout the entire process—and to all the elders I've had the joy of meeting through this process. Thanks also to my colleagues, Minister Bennett, who's been a mentor for many years; Minister Wilson-Raybould, a new mentor; and most importantly, thank you very much to all of the families, the loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and the survivors of violence who bravely shared their stories with us over the past months.
We recognize the incredible gift you've given us by sharing your personal stories with us.
I am so very grateful for the trust that you've placed in us to hold dear the memories of your loved ones, and I honour your strength and your courage to seek a better place for other women and girls in Canada.
I recognize that it's been very difficult for you to share your experiences.
I thank you for your trust in us and for your many, many years of advocacy that made this important inquiry a reality.
The Government of Canada deeply cares about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. This inquiry is an essential step in that process and will lay bare the longstanding systemic discrimination that Indigenous women and girls have faced in this country.
The systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls are both historic and current. This inquiry will unflinchingly examine both. As we listened to the stories shared by family members, by mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings and children, I was deeply saddened by the many, many ways that you have been hurt.
Each family described horrible situations, but several themes came out of this. Your stories clearly showed us that this inquiry must focus on discrimination in all its forms, including the racism and misogyny that resulted in the severe and ongoing violence that your daughters, your sisters, your mothers, your aunts, your grandmothers faced and continue to live with today.
Canada's colonial history altered Indigenous communities and families, and the racism brought on by colonization has had devastating impacts on Indigenous women's power, their status, their role in their communities and their economic situations. And this intersection of racism and sexism greatly increases the vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls to experience violence.
Changing these attitudes and practices will require a steady and an honest gaze. Just as important, the inquiry must also examine how racism and sexism are embedded in the very institutions that are supposed to help and protect women and girls.
We want changes that make Canada a safer and better place. Today, we are beginning something new. It is part of our promise to eliminate violence towards women and girls.
I am presently conducting consultations with advocates, frontline service providers, academics and survivors who work against gender-based violence. And the advice and stories I've heard are helping me to create a federal strategy to address this gender-based violence that's endemic in Canada.
This strategy will not replace the inquiry nor its work—the publication of its recommendations. But it will consider the specific experiences and needs of Indigenous women and girls. We can identify concrete actions that will prevent violence and support survivors as we await the results of the inquiry. These actions will build on others that create the foundation of safety such as supporting the creation of affordable housing and growing Canada's network of shelters, transition houses and supports.
The launch of this inquiry is a crucial point in our history. It is a vital first step towards eliminating the racism and the sexism and the violence that holds all of us back. The fact that so many Indigenous women and girls have been lost and continue to be lost is a tragedy and a disgrace, and it touches all Canadians. We cannot move forward until we face and recognize and put a stop to this ongoing tragedy. Until that time, our entire country will live under its shadow and the consequences of our inaction.
Every Indigenous girl has the right to live free of violence, and every Indigenous woman deserves an equal chance to succeed.
I thank you for your conviction and your courage.
The journey of the inquiry will be difficult and it will be painful, but it will also be the unflinching gaze needed to create a country where all girls and women are equally safe.
Miigwetch, merci and thank you.
The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould:
(Indigenous language), good morning, hello everyone. It's my incredible honour to be here today, and first of all, I want to thank Elder Commanda for the welcome and for the prayer and acknowledge the beautiful Algonquin territory that we're gathered on to hold this most important ceremony and announcement.
I want to acknowledge my colleagues, Ministers Bennett and Hajdu, for their leadership, acknowledge the other elders up here and acknowledge all of the commissioners that are embarking on an incredibly important journey. I'd like to begin by recognizing what an incredibly important and significant day this is, and I believe it's very befitting that we're gathered in this great hall with the big houses of Indigenous communities behind us. And I want to acknowledge most of all the families of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and the survivors that are here, and thank you and (Indigenous language) for your continued advocacy over decades that have brought us to this place.
I am incredibly proud to be here, certainly as the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, but proud to be here also as a Kwakwaka'wakw woman from the west coast of British Columbia.
I'm looking forward to the ceremony that's going to be held where we symbolically, in beautiful baskets, as you can see beside Minister Bennett, pass to the commissioners, hand over the torch as it were, all of the, hand over all of the information that we gained through the pre-inquiry sessions. Hand over symbolically, I guess, some of the tears, some of the mementos that we were given by the families to guide you in your work.
As my colleague Minister Bennett mentioned, the national inquiry will focus on the root causes of the disproportionate rates of violence, of crime against Indigenous women and girls and on the extent of the vulnerability to violence. We need to identify the causes of those disparities and take action now to end them.
As I said when we launched the pre-inquiry sessions in December, the Government of Canada is committed to doing better, and we will take action together to reach the goal to eliminate as much as we can violence against Indigenous women and girls. In the pre-inquiry sessions held across the country, some of the families of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls told us that they wanted to know more about what happened to their loved ones but found it hard to get the information.
So to help them to get the information, the Department of Justice will immediately increase financial assistance to the provinces and territories. Specifically, the department will provide $11.67 million over three years to help the provinces and territories establish new family information liaison units within their existing victim services departments.
When these units are established, they will work directly with families and with local, provincial and territorial agents, agencies and governments to help families find the information they seek about the loss of their loved one. In addition, these units will help families deal with trauma, the trauma of their loss, and help them connect to the resources that they require.
The Department of Justice will also allocate an additional $4.5 million to support victim service projects across the country that will directly help the families of the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. This funding will help address gaps where needs are high, building on the work of Indigenous organizations and specialized victim services programs.
The services these new funds support will complement the inquiry's objectives and of the Government of Canada's commitment to promoting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. We know that the inquiry cannot undo the injustices that Indigenous peoples have suffered over decades but we can review what's happened in the past, reflect on our present circumstances and chart a path moving forward.
And maybe I'll end where I started, in speaking about this amazing hall that we're in and how proud I feel to stand in front of the big houses, to look at the faces of the Indigenous peoples that are here and acknowledge the Indigenous peoples, in particular the women and girls, across the country that are watching today.
The big houses behind me, and there is one from the Kwakwaka'wakw territory, represent the strength and the resilience of the human spirit, the strength of Indigenous peoples, and it is that strength, the culture, the traditions and our languages that are going to assist in healing, that are going to chart the path to a new future where Indigenous peoples can finally see their face in the mirror of our constitution.
(Indigenous language), thank you everyone for being here.
Thank you, ministers.
I'd like to now introduce Amanda Rhéaume—is Amanda there? Yep. Amanda's an Indigenous singer-songwriter from Ottawa who will perform her song "Red Dress". Amanda.
(song – Amanda Rhéaume)
Miigwetch. Thank you.
Thank you. Merci. Thank you, Amanda, for that beautiful, beautiful song.
So now we're going to conduct the ceremony and the transfer of the basket. At this point, I would like to invite Inuit youth, Charlotte and Abby—I love those names Charlotte and Abby—Carleton to pass on the gifts to the elders, to be presented to the commissioners, representing a very symbolic passing of the responsibility of carrying forward the work of the inquiry.
The gift basket for the commission is made of birch bark and is wrapped in a red Métis sash. It's lined with sealskin and contains a digital copy of all the inquiry research undertaken so far. Both the basket and the Métis fire bags also contain cloudberry tea, a felt red dress brooch, a sealskin amautiq brooch, a ribbon pin made of sealskin, a Sisters In Spirit pin and a tobacco tie. Go ahead.
(presentation of baskets to commissioners)
I would now like to invite the chief commissioner.
I'd like to now invite—oh, we're going to have more gifts, okay. You're next. Sorry. Apologies. We're going to transfer all the gifts to all the five commissioners first.
Commissioner Brian Eyolfson:
Thank you very much. (Miigwetch)
Commissioner Marilyn Poitras:
(inaudible) merci. Thank you. (applause)
Okay. Now, I would like to invite our chief commissioner, Marion Buller, to say a few words. Marion? (applause)
Chief Commissioner Marion Buller:
Ministers, elders, families, survivors, honoured guests and friends, first I thank the Algonquin people for allowing us to have this important event on their traditional lands. And thank you Elder Commanda for starting us with such a moving prayer.
The commissioners and I thank the elders for the gifts that start us on our historic journey today. We thank the Government of Canada for the honour of serving on this very important inquiry.
We would like to thank the ministers for this honour it is to work on this inquiry.
The inquiry will examine the issues that resulted in Indigenous women and girls going missing and being murdered. Our goal is to make concrete recommendations that will ensure the safety of our women and our girls in our communities. The commissioners and I accept our serious responsibilities and we are committed to doing the difficult work ahead of us.
The spirits of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will be close in our hearts and in our minds as we do our work. The families' and the survivors' losses, pain, strength and courage will inspire our work.
Merci. Miigwetch. Qujanamiik. Marsee. Mahsi Cho. And I thank you.
Thank you. Thank you, chief commissioner. I'd like to now invite Charlotte and Abby Carleton to perform a traditional Inuit throat singing to help us close today's event.
Do you want to say a few words? A couple of words? Anyone? Michèle will say a few words.
(Indigenous language) Wow. Friends, commissioners, ministers, (Indigenous language), survivors, my family, (Indigenous language). Thank you. I accept with honour this mandate and I will do everything I can in the context of this inquiry. Thank you, families.
Okay. Thanks very much. I'm sure you'll all have plenty of opportunities to be speaking in the years ahead.
Okay, Charlotte, Abby, take it away.
On behalf of my sister and I, we're very honoured and humbled to be here. As was previously mentioned today, Indigenous people are really resilient and strong. We go through much and we come out better. This song, we believe, is appropriate. It's called (Indigenous language) or "The River". And just like water, you know, we push through things. We've very agile and we adapt to things. So this is "The River".
Qujanamiik. Thank you.
Nice. Nice. Our young women are so beautiful and so talented. Thank you, Charlotte and Abby, for that beautiful song.
And thank you all participants and guests for being here today.
I would like to thank all participants, all guests for being with us today. I would like to invite Claudette to do a closing prayer and, after that closing prayer, I would ask the media to join our special media availability in the Riverview Salon. Thank you. Merci. Miigwetch.
Yes, get up there and pull down the mic.
As I reflected on the words to say to close this beautiful circle, I couldn't help but think about the beautiful and wise words that were said by the late Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indian tribe. Chief Joseph said it does not take many words to speak the truth. And I will take his wisdom to say that it does not take many words to give thanks, to give thanks to the Creator in blessing each and every one of you and thanking him for bringing us together.
And my late grandfather, William Commanda, he had taught me and many others all we need to say is "miigwetch". Simple. Thank you. Merci.
So with that, miigwetch (Indigenous language). Thank you. Thanks very much.
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