Inquiry design meeting #16: February 10-11, 2016, Edmonton, Alberta
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held its sixteenth engagement meeting in Edmonton, on Wednesday and Thursday, February 10-11, 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 and a sharing circle 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 a prayer from an Elder followed by a prayer song. A welcoming speech from the Minister followed. Participants acknowledged and honoured the women and girls who were murdered and who are still missing.
The Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs heard directly from participants about the effects of violence on the survivors, the families of victims and their communities.
Participants in the Edmonton 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.
The day closed with a prayer from an Elder and words of hope from the other officiating elders. A presentation of a gifts to the Elders occurred and a gifting of moccasins to the Minister. A thank-you and closing speech from the Minister followed and an honour song closed the meeting.
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:
- The Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
Officials from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Status of Women Canada were present throughout the day.
The Edmonton meeting was attended by over 240 survivors, family members and loved ones from Indigenous communities in the province. Four Elders were present to provide a safe and supportive environment for discussions. To ensure the well-being of participants, health support workers, including Indigenous elders, from Health Canada were available at the meetings and over-night to provide additional cultural and emotional support.
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:
- Indigenous commissioners with in-depth background knowledge, influence of Indigenous history and in-depth understanding of the justice system
- experience either with the Supreme Court, or as former First Nation leaders, as First Nation advocates, or former RCMP officers, or expertise from the United Nations
- expertise from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Participants also identified which groups should have a chance to take part in the Inquiry:
- families and loved ones of the victims
- women who have experienced violence, escaped situations of violence as well as women and girls who are at risk
- advocates for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls
- representatives of front-line organizations that work with victims of violence
- social and health services
- Indigenous organizations
- First Nations chiefs and councils
- community police, teachers, health care workers
- Health Canada
- international representatives
Participants stressed the importance of involving survivors, families and loved ones in all aspects of the inquiry.
Priorities and key issues
Participants identified the issues the Inquiry must address if it is to produce recommendations for specific actions. These issues include:
- policing, with emphasis on sensitivity training, and addressing instances of police misconduct or mishandling of cases of violence against Indigenous women
- cultural awareness training for police, criminal justice personnel, and front line workers
- breakdown in communication between victims, families and loved ones and police as well as the justice system
- unclear process to file a case of a murdered or missing Indigenous woman or girl
- enhanced financial assistance for victims, families and loved ones going through the justice system, especially if required to travel for court dates or meeting with law enforcement etc.
- the links between the child welfare system, residential schools system, and family violence
- the effects of residential schools and intergenerational trauma on individuals, families and communities as it relates to violence against women and children in care
- investments in education for youth and cultural programming
- further investments to mental health programming and access to supports by victims, families and loved ones over a long term to include grief and loss, addictions and abuse, trauma and domestic violence
- resource sharing and Treaty implementation
- poverty and homelessness linked to access/building of safe housing on reserve as well as safe and affordable housing within the cities
- investments in centers for addictions and shelters as well as transitional housing
- job growth in communities and access to jobs within the cities
- racism (including systemic), cultural ignorance and discrimination in accessing services
Participants want the inquiry's final report to include recommendations for specific actions including:
- create a specialized taskforce with Indigenous police investigators that work with the RCMP
- create a law enforcement protocol for cases of violence against Indigenous women
- reviewing police codes of professional conduct to better protect vulnerable Indigenous women
- judicial system to implement a support worker and elder to every case of a murdered or missing indigenous woman or girl
- within the judicial system, classify Indigenous women as vulnerable citizens that will impact sentencing
- develop guidelines for families when there is a murdered or missing individual that clearly explains the process
- create a national anonymous hotline for information pertaining to cases of violence against Indigenous women
- prevention, healing and reconciliation measures, including a public awareness campaign that Indigenous Women are Beautiful
In general, the participants agreed that solving the problem of violence will be a long-term process and will require building trust among Indigenous communities and the police and justice systems. As time passes, attention should continue to focus on the needs and concerns of survivors, families and loved ones.
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:
- promote healing and traditional ceremonial practices
- promote education on the history of residential schools
- consult with local communities and involve elders to ensure that specific local practices are respected such as use of appropriate protocols for pipe ceremonies
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 have a clear mandate and achievable recommendations as the international community will be witnessing how Canada conducts this inquiry
- the inquiry should allow for UN observers
- Health Canada should be involved with the healing component and programming
- Canada 150 should also include a focus on reconciliation
- the lack of information that several families experienced was mentioned and improvements in communication between families and authorities was proposed as a key recommendation