Inquiry design meeting #11: January 28-29, 2016, Iqaluit, Nunavut
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held its eleventh engagement meeting in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Thursday and Friday, January 28-29, 2016. This pre-inquiry meeting included survivors, families and loved ones. Their experiences, views and contributions will contribute to the design of 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 Iqaluit engagement session took place over a two day period. On the first day, participants registered and were invited to attend an orientation session. On the second day, the Minister took part in a sharing circle with participants and engaged in discussions about how to best design an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Ceremony and tradition are vital parts of Northern life and participants stressed the importance of including these practices at the beginning and end of every meeting. On the first day, an Inuit Elder was present at the sessions to offer spiritual counsel. On the second day, an Inuit Elder began the day in a healing way by lighting a qulliq lamp and explaining the history and significance of the qulliq as a source of heat and light, as well as a cooking implement, for the Inuit. This was followed by children from the community performing traditional Inuit throat singing. The day was then opened with a prayer. At the end of the day, a local children's choir performed traditional Inuit singing, dancing and drumming for the participants. This was seen as critical to the healing process, as it helped to lift the spirits of participants after a challenging day of sharing stories and recommendations.
The unique perspective and needs of Inuit in an inquiry was raised many times. Inuit have a culture and traditional way of life which is vastly different from other First Peoples in Canada and an inquiry must respect their differences and include their unique cultural elements as part of the process. In particular, remoteness, isolation, language, inter-generational trauma and harm were raised as issues which will impact an Inquiry differently. The small, remote nature of many Northern communities will require a greater focus on community support and healing, in order to stop the violence and disappearance in communities, heal and move forward from the past.
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 was:
- the Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
Officials from the department were present throughout the day.
The Iqaluit meeting was attended by over 50 survivors, family members, and loved ones from Inuit communities from Nunavut and Nunavik (northern Quebec). Elders and health support workers were also present to provide counsel and create a supportive environment for discussions.
Leadership and participation
Participants were asked who should lead and participate in an Inquiry. Survivors, families and loved ones indicated that an inquiry should be led by:
- Inuit groups already working with communities
- regional and national Indigenous organizations
- commissioners who speak Inuktitut and Innu
- Inuit, First Nation and Métis representatives
- Inuit groups which focus on traditional knowledge
- multi-disciplinary teams, which include: Indigenous experts, psychiatrists, doctors, child-welfare experts, trauma specialists and those who work on the ground with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
Survivors, families and loved ones indicated that an inquiry should include participation from:
- whole communities, as issues affect entire community and the collective must be part of the solution
- children and youth, as they provide a special perspective and are in need of much healing having suffered the loss of their family members
- men and boys
- perpetrators, to uncover the root causes of their behavior
- families and friends of both victims and perpetrators
- individuals who are incarcerated
- grandparents, who are left to care for their grandchildren
- people with disabilities
- people from remote Inuit communities all across the territory as well as from Inuit communities in Nunavik
Participants described accessibility issues which must be addressed to ensure survivors, families and loved ones' participation in an inquiry, including:
- proper interpretation, with special attention to unique Northern dialects
- compensation for participation in an Inquiry, including for childcare and for lost work
- travel to small, remote communities across the territory and Nunavik
- special consideration of the Inuit's quieter, more reserved culture and way of sitting in silence formulating thoughts before speaking
- local groups to facilitate Inuit participation and help advocate for the community's unique cultural needs and
- the particular needs of small communities, including issues around confidentiality for those who participate from such small communities
- safety, confidentiality and support for survivors and victim's families
Priorities and key issues
Participants identified issues the inquiry must address in order to achieve concrete recommendations, including:
- the root causes of violence and harm in communities
- the effects of colonization
- the legacy and intergenerational trauma of residential schools
- the trauma of forced relocation for people and communities
- the effects of displaced families and the breakdown of traditional family structures
- the legacy and ill-effects of the sled dog slaughter
- the effects of non-consensual experimentation on Inuit persons by the government
- the effects of systemic poverty
- the lack of official statistical data for Inuit persons
- the importance of including the unique Inuit voice and perspective in an Inquiry including the unique voice and perspective of Inuit from Nunavik
- the special circumstances of small communities where survivors/victim's families and perpetrators may be living in close proximity and where sometime victims and perpetrators are coming from the same family
- police conduct and investigation practices and particularly appearances that cases involving Inuit do not get proper attention and are too often dismissed quickly
- re-examination of criminal evidence in some investigations and re-opening of cold cases
- death by suicide, including the over-representation of Inuit in deaths by suicide
- suspicious disappearance and deaths unique to northern communities e.g. drownings, hunting, people who "get lost" in snow
- deaths and disappearances of Inuit in the south while receiving medical treatment
- the over-representation of Inuit in the criminal justice system and prisons
- the length of time the criminal justice system takes to render a verdict
- lack of justice in sentencing – sentencing length not long enough, perpetrators sent to minimum or medium security facilities
- persons with disabilities
- the intersection of mental health and addiction issues
- drug and alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism for trauma
- support structures (financial, emotional, social) for families raising children of murdered parents
- the unequal treatment of northern and remote communities by institutions
- the isolation and fear experienced by many Northern peoples
- the need to support and educate men and boys
- reconciliation and healing as a priority at the community level
- focus on children and youth as the future of Indigenous communities
- strategy for combatting Inquiry fatigue – how to keep the issue alive
- the trauma and effects of families dealing with multiple deaths, disappearances of women and men in their families and communities and
- the burden of caring for those "left behind" when a community member or loved one is lost or murdered
- the need to properly recognize, remember and honour those who are missing or murdered e.g. through monuments or memorials
In particular, participants stressed the need to formulate recommendations for specific action as part of an Inquiry which address:
- enhanced advocacy for Indigenous children in care
- the need for specialized Inuit programming in jails
- education about Inuit culture and lifestyle, violence prevention and respect for women and children
- legislative review for spousal protection rules and laws which affect Indigenous peoples
- long-term funding, programming and support for communities after the Inquiry is over
- government commitment to international rules and covenants for Indigenous peoples
- holistic recommendations for action which break the cycles of poverty, violence and trauma
- treaty implementation issues
- the need for Indigenous peoples to be responsible for their own challenges and a part of the solution and
- a re-examinations of the official list and records for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
Support and cultural practices
Participants stressed the need to include traditional Inuit practices and ceremony in the inquiry process. Recommendations for ceremonial and cultural practices included:
- the inclusion of Elders' counsel
- lighting of the Quuliq
- throat singing
- drumming and drum circles
- group healing circles
- sweat lodges
- hunting and fishing healing camps with Elders
- country food must be served
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 included:
- This is the first time there has been such a gathering in the territory – it's a first step toward healing.
- There has been very little research and analysis on the disappearance and deaths of Inuit women and girls.
- The participation of Inuit in an Inquiry will require special consideration as Inuit are unique and different from First Nations and Métis.
- Participants are encouraged by the work of the new government and very happy to have been given an opportunity to provide a Northern perspective.
- There are still many people who should be at the pre-inquiry meeting who were not able to participate due to their remoteness or inability to travel.