Inquiry design meeting #15: February 9-10, 2016, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held its fifteenth engagement meeting in Saskatoon, on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 9-10, 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.
The engagement meeting was held over two days. The first day was a preparation day for participants with an orientation session where survivors, families and loved ones shared their personal stories associated with violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The second day was dedicated to how the inquiry should be designed. The day opened with wise words from Elders and the Women's Honour Song was sung. Welcoming speeches from the Ministers followed. An empty chair was set to acknowledge and honour the women and girls who were murdered and who are still missing. Prayers were also offered for those most affected by these tragedies.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs heard about the effect of violence on the survivors, the families of victims and their communities.
Participants in the Saskatoon session discussed their desire for those most directly impacted by violence to play a key role in an inquiry and to have their needs met throughout the process.
Survivors, families and loved ones of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls attended the pre-Inquiry meeting. There were also representatives of women's organizations, and other supporters. Also in attendance were:
- the Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs; and,
- the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Officials from both departments were present throughout the day.
The Saskatoon meeting was attended by about 150 survivors, family members and loved ones from Indigenous communities in the province. Elders and health support workers were also present to provide a safe and supportive environment for participants to be able to discuss difficult issues.
Leadership and participation
Two questions were asked about who should lead and who should take part in the inquiry. The views on leadership included the need to have:
- an Indigenous woman who is strongly grounded in community, culture and the movement for justice for missing an murdered Indigenous women and girls
- commissioners who are good listeners and communicators
- commissioners who are critical thinkers
- one male commissioner in order to provide balance
- one commissioner from each province and territory; the number 13 is significant in Cree culture
- an Elders advisory council to help select commissioners
Participants also identified which groups should have a chance to take part in the Inquiry:
- participants should include women, men, elders and youth
- community and organizational leaders should be there because families and survivors need help from all levels
Participants stressed the importance of involving survivors, families and loved ones. To make participation possible, participants said the inquiry must:
- avoid re-victimizing families again
- diversify outreach so that the inquiry does not rely on contact online as a first point of contact with community members; an advance team needs to go and first speak to explain process, and then bring the invitation to participate
- provide funding for supports and participation of families and survivors
- hold hearings closer to home communities
- incorporate indigenous laws and policies
- have a lawyer or advocate appointed to help the families understand the judicial and other processes
- provide support to families with hearing impairment so that they can follow fully participate and communicate
- allow people to speak anonymously in a recorder to allow them to share
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 support needed for the children left behind; their grandparents need support to be able to care for the children
- the impact of violence and murder on the children cannot be underestimated; some turn to addictions and suicide or become victims of other violence as a result of the murder
- media should not sensationalize and stigmatize and stereotype the victims; the families and children can be traumatized again by insensitive and racist media portrayals
- the justice system needs to be examined and racism addressed; an independent police force should investigate these cases
- deficits in education, health, economy and the links between these deficits and the vulnerability of Indigenous community members
- the review of investigation practices
- improvements are required in police communication with families about ongoing investigations; families want to know why cases are not moving and if they have gone 'cold'
- the recruitment and training of police officers, including screening recruits for their knowledge and understanding of Indigenous people, not sending novices out to Indigenous communities, sending officers who know about Indigenous people
- recognition of original treaty relations, based in international law, and the relation of lack of recognition and violence against Indigenous community members
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:
- In Saskatoon the inquiry must start with a pipe ceremony, and end with a round dance and a moment of silence. In each territory, the appropriate cultural practices should be respected.
- Open every morning with a drum and song.
- It is not just about cultural practices, but also about incorporating Indigenous laws, worldview and policies.
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 needs to be national in scope
- An Elders' Advisory Council needs to advise the inquiry and to carry on beyond the inquiry
- There is a long-term need for trained mental health services for families.
- The inquiry needs concrete outcomes and changes to be made across all levels of society.
- There is a need to educate children about safety for prevention.
- The inquiry needs to deal with multiple levels of trauma, lateral violence, poverty that affects communities.
- Child welfare issues need to be reviewed. When a mother is murdered, child welfare should not apprehend the children. They should try to keep them with the families. Otherwise the families lose not only one person, but the children as well
- The inquiry will need collaboration between different organizations and the various levels, down to the community level
- Someone needs to advocate for families to guide them through court system and police and the language of educated people.
- The inquiry will need to re-open and review cold cases to examine if there was due diligence in the original investigation.