Inquiry design meeting #8: January 19-20, 2016, Halifax, Nova Scotia
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held its eighth engagement meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Tuesday and Wednesday, January 19-20, 2016. This pre-inquiry meeting included survivors, families and loved ones. 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 session in Halifax took place over two days. The first day was reserved for registration and orientation, while on the second day participants took part in a sharing circle with the Ministers and discussed how best to design an Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
After participants raised the importance of commencing the orientation with ceremonies, the first day was opened by a grandmother and both a smudge and several powerful drum songs were performed for participants. Participants then took part in an orientation session where survivors, families and loved ones were invited to share their experiences and personal accounts associated with violence against Indigenous women and girls. Participants talked about the long-term effects of these experiences on themselves, their families and their communities. They also discussed their journeys towards reconciliation and healing, and what supports they would need to help them along this path.
The second day was dedicated to how the inquiry should be designed. At the start of the day, the room was blessed and traditional ceremonies were performed by Inuit and Mi'kmaw Elders, who also explained the signification of these ceremonies for the Indigenous peoples of the east coast. Drumming was performed by a group of strong, courageous women and welcoming speeches were held by the Elders, Minister, facilitator and support workers. A powerful banner displaying faceless dolls, representing those women who were murdered or are still missing, was on display for participants. There was also a display of traditional Mi'kmaw clothing.
The importance of involving survivors, families and loved ones in all stages of the Inquiry process was reiterated throughout both days, as was the need to examine the origins of violence in many communities.
Survivors, families and loved ones of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls attended the pre-inquiry meeting. Representatives of front-line organizations were also in attendance. Other participants included:
- The Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
- The Hon. Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women Canada.
Officials from both departments were present throughout the day.
The Ministers stressed the need to engage first with survivors, family and loved ones to "get it right".
Nearly 90 family members and loved ones participated from several Indigenous communities. Three Elders as well as health support workers were also present to provide support and create a safe space for pre-inquiry discussions.
Leadership and participation
Participants were asked who should lead the Inquiry and provided some of the following feedback:
- commissioners and facilitators should be Indigenous
- inquiry should be led by Indigenous men, women and Elders
- inquiry staff should include those from within communities who don't need to learn language and culture
- inquiry should involve those with experience, as well as formal education
- keep the families at the center of the planning and control for the Inquiry and away from political organizations
Participants also identified which groups should have a chance to take part in the inquiry:
- family is not only defined by blood in Indigenous communities; need to ensure participation of extended family and friends
- issues of accessibility need to be carefully considered as part of Inquiry; how can marginalized persons (whether geographic, homeless, substance addicted, in care, in prison etc.) be included
- should hear from all levels of government – municipal, provincial/territorial and federal
- youth and youth groups
- boys, men, gay/lesbian, trans-sexual and transgendered people should also be included
Participants stressed the importance of involving survivors, families and loved ones. To make this possible, participants said the inquiry must:
- provide sufficient notice to families to prepare themselves
- visit all regions across Canada, including remote communities and rural hubs to hear from those that cannot travel
- provide special consideration to survivors so as to include them fully in an Inquiry. Many survivors are marginalized because of sex work, homelessness or addiction issues;
- engage with women's organizations that are already on ground and working with survivors to ensure their participation
- support families before, during and after the Inquiry is concluded with mental health support, financial support, childcare support, language and translation support, physical and cognitive disability support
- consider vicarious trauma and pain of hearing other families' stories over and over again
- provide financial support and compensation for lost work days
Priorities and key issues
Participants identified the issues the inquiry must address if it is to produce recommendations for specific actions. These issues include:
- the need to better understand the intersection between marginalization and missing and murdered women and the associated need to break the cycle of poverty
- ties between addictions, mental health and the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
- the continual need to recognize intergenerational effect of residential schools
- the challenges of dealing with multiple layers of bureaucracy and particularly the complexity of the legal system and cases tied to Canadian citizens who are murdered in the United States
- support required to bring back remains, particularly across borders, so families can have the closure they need
- the particular geographic challenges in the Maritimes
- investigation into over-representation of Indigenous peoples in prisons, as well as wrongfully-convicted offenders
- the need to understand root causes of why Indigenous people are not treated with respect by institutions
- the support required for families in which there are victims and perpetrators in the same family
- specific cases where pregnant women go missing or are murdered and sentencing considerations when an unborn child is involved
- the issue of children in care who end up missing and murdered
- coordination of responses across governments i.e. federal, provincial/territorial and municipal as well as access to information from these multiple levels
- the use of Amber Alerts for Indigenous kids
- the need to connect what is happening to Indigenous people in Canada to the broad international human rights agenda
Participants want the inquiry's final report to include recommendations for specific actions including:
- establishing "safety nets" in communities
- the creation of a "special investigations unit" for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
- the creation of a Canada-wide database of missing and murdered women, coordinated with provinces/territories and including a review of how "missing" and "murdered" are defined
- the development of law enforcement training to be responsive to the special needs of Indigenous populations, as well as to combat systemic racism and to ensure that remains of those murdered are treated with dignity and respect
- establishing Indigenous mediators between police and families
- prison reform to incorporate Indigenous perspectives in sentencing, healing and rehabilitation, and the ability to revisit the sentencing process when both victim and offender are Indigenous
- developing parenting skills and programming led by Indigenous people
- adequate compensation for victims and families
- revisiting cold cases – in some cases there may be new evidence or new information, in others where no body or remains were ever produced, family does not have closure and cannot move forward
- building and/or restoring the nation-to-nation relationship
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:
- Elders and ceremony is essential at every step of process and must be relevant to each community
- drumming and cleansing with the eagle feather need to be part of process
- hold hearing in a circle formation and include proper ceremonies to collect tears
- sacred fire should be lit in each city or community when inquiry travels
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:
- many participants expressed their appreciation to the Ministers for taking the time to come and listen to their stories first, before announcing an Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
- the inquiry should consider the need for an increased network, funding and program support on-reserve, which includes: safe houses for mothers and children fleeing violence, rehabilitation centres, detoxification centres etc. so that families don't have to leave reserve to get support
- many of the challenges affecting Indigenous people and communities continue decade-after-decade – how can we create measurable results which show the markers are moving?
- education and awareness about Indigenous peoples should be included in schools
- harm reduction programs should be considered as part of inquiry
- how the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be considered in the inquiry
- the inclusion of legislative reviews and reforms as part of the inquiry
- how can safety and confidentiality best be prioritized in an inquiry
- how to have the media handle cases in a responsible, ethical and respectful fashion
- ensuring that the inquiry has ample time to travel to remote, rural communities and hear testimonies