Inquiry design meeting #3: January 5-6, 2016, Thunder Bay, Ontario
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held its third engagement meeting in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on Tuesday and Wednesday, January 5-6, 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 first day was dedicated to orientation sessions and to a sharing circle where survivors, families and loved ones could share 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. Elders smudged the space beforehand and Sacred Drum was brought in to bring ceremony for the families, to help them heal and fill the space with positive energy. The drum group provided songs for families to gather, sing and hear the drum songs for healing.
The second day was opened and closed with traditional ceremonies. 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 day was dedicated to how the inquiry should be designed as well as to discuss ways to support healing for families and loved ones.
Personal experiences were shared and the Ministers of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and Status of Women heard first-hand about the effects of this violence on the families and their communities.
Participants in the Thunder Bay session mentioned the importance of having loved one and family involved throughout the inquiry process and indicated their interest in being part of the process. Participants also clearly signaled a need to examine the underlying causes of violence and explore concrete actions to address those underlying causes.
The pre-inquiry meeting was attended by survivors, families and loved ones of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. There were also representatives of front-line and local Indigenous organizations. Also in attendance were:
- The Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs,
- The Hon. Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women
Officials from each of the federal departments were also present throughout the day.
More than 160 family members and loved ones participated from several Indigenous communities, mostly from Ontario. Elders and health support workers were also present to provide a safe and supportive setting.
Leadership and participation
Participants were asked who they thought should lead and who should take part in the inquiry. The views on leadership included the need to have:
- A panel or group of commissioners with gender balance, extensive appropriate experience and training but with strong Indigenous women playing a lead role
- Independence from Government or from political organizations
- Individuals who are compassionate and qualified in both traditional and Western ways
- Support and guidance from an advisory council, including from elders.
Participants also identified which groups should have a chance to take part in the inquiry. These included:
- Grassroots representatives, with a clear focus on family members, survivors and loved ones
- Elders and youth
- Support and front-line workers
- Traditional leaders and healers
- Representatives from Indigenous governments, including community leadership
- Victimizers, abusers and perpetrators as understanding what went wrong with them will help prevent others from going down that path.
Participants stressed the importance of involving survivors, families and loved ones, and to do so by visiting their communities. To make this possible, participants said the inquiry must:
- Provide supports to participants (health, linguistic, social and cultural)
- Ensure that family and loved ones have sufficient time to prepare and hold preparation and debriefing sessions with participants to help them throughout the process
- Ensure that traditional and non-traditional support is provided, including the presence of spiritual healers and Elders
- Create and maintain a safe space for all with particular attention to those who will be sharing their stories for the first time
- Work with Band/Tribal Councils to ensure that they actively promote band members participation
- Provide simple and easily accessible financial support to enable participation
- Be prepared to travel to small and remote communities as well as larger urban centres and offer options for video testimonies for areas where the inquiry cannot go.
Priorities and key issues
Participants identified the issues the Inquiry must examine and address if it is to produce recommendations for specific actions. These issues include:
- Laws and the justice system, including issues of sentencing
- Police investigation practices such as protocols to involve the families and loved ones
- Specific gaps across police jurisdictions and communication between law enforcement agencies
- The rehabilitation of victimizers and their reintegration into society
- The need to hold an inquiry that stretches across borders, both from one province to another and also to the United States
- The circumstances tied to the sex trade and to human trafficking with particular attention to what happens in ships in Lake Superior
- The issue of re-victimization of survivors in the justice system
- The barriers to accessing justice, including the fear of reprisal for women who denounce abusers
- A review of how Indigenous women are identified in missing and murdered cases and how the data is connected in the multiple databases so as to improve the available information on the issue
- Generational effects on grandparents and children
- Media coverage of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
- Root causes of violence and abuse
- The impact of the social services system in violence
- Racism (including systemic), cultural ignorance and discrimination
- Impacts of colonialism, the Indian Act, residential schools, "60's scoop," child and family services
- Impacts of poverty, drugs and addictions
Participants want the inquiry's final report to include recommendations for specific actions including:
- Mechanisms to ensure healing support is provided to survivors, families and loved ones over a long term
- Providing support for families aimed at parenting skills
- Establishing appropriate memorials to honour the missing and murdered
- Giving consideration to the issue of shelters and preventions programs
- Community level involvement in patrolling and providing support and safety to women and girls
- Crisis support mechanisms when tragedy strikes
- Victim compensation for families and children left behind
- The issue of legal support for families
- Ensuring cultural awareness and cultural competence for all services that deal with Indigenous populations
- Establishing a sound communication strategy to ensure that all Canadians understand and identify with the recommendations.
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 stressed 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 included:
- Honour loved ones by allowing appropriate ceremonies to be held during the events but also surrounding the events (for example, grieving and sunrise ceremonies, sacred fires)
- Consider including cultural and spiritual elements appropriate to the region (for example drumming and honour songs)
- Ensure Elders can fully participate and that they lead any ceremonies held.
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 be a transparent process and continuous information should be shared as the process unfolds
- The inquiry should dedicate specific attention to the issue of pregnant women who are murdered
- Ties between the social determinants of health and the issue of missing and murdered should be examined
- Researching traditional ways of dealing with issues of murder and missing
- Issues tied to violence against men were raised as deserving attention
- The inquiry should investigate further the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. This should include a review of closed cases
- Ensuring that families and loved ones can have access to information on the cases which concern them
- Helping the victimizers so that they can heal and modify their ways
- The inquiry should involve the "two-spirited" gay, lesbian and transgender communities
- In order to achieve balance, it will be important to showcase positive indigenous role models and success stories of healthy indigenous people living there life in balance across cultures