The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held its seventeenth engagement meeting in Calgary, on Thursday and Friday, February 11-12, 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 wise words from an Elder, drummers, and an Honour Song. 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. Some families placed pictures and of their loved ones on a table next to the empty chair. Prayers were also offered for those most affected by these tragedies. 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.
The Minister of Status of Women and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs listened to the effects of violence on the survivors, the families of victims, and their communities. The Minister of Veterans Affairs also met the families in the morning to hear their stories.
Participants in the Calgary 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 words of hope, a prayer by an Elder and The Women's Warrior Song.
Survivors, families and loved ones of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls attended the pre-inquiry meeting with their supporters. Also in attendance were:
The Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
The Hon. Patty A. Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women Canada
The Hon. Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada
Officials from Indigenous and Northern Affairs and from Status of Women Canada were present throughout the day.
The Calgary meeting was attended by over 230 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 discussions.
Leadership and participation
Participants were asked who should lead the Inquiry and provided some of the following feedback:
inquiry should be led by a committee that is not hierarchical in structure and ensure that leaders understand that they work for the people, not the other way around
Indigenous people should be on any body tasked with running the inquiry
the team that leads the inquiry must be multi-faceted and broad
a special group, which includes family members should be part of the leadership
woman should lead the inquiry and each First Nation should elect a woman to sit on a panel
one commissioner from each province and territory
criminal investigation experts (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) should be involved in leading an inquiry
Participants also identified which groups should be given the opportunity to take part in the inquiry:
family members from each community, elders, and survivors
front-line workers and support workers
grassroot organizations are key
political organizations and leadership from Indigenous communities including chiefs, council and traditional or medicine people
not only those with "official" titles should participate – community members are critical
many different ages/generations and perspectives should be included in an inquiry
two-spirited people and men must also be part the inquiry
Participants stressed the importance of involving survivors, families and loved ones. To make this possible, participants said the inquiry must:
involve families who have the experience and personal knowledge of the frustration and heartache from seeking answers to questions
ensure that social media, mass media, and other mediums be used to get the word out, cannot solely depend on Indigenous organizations
understand that every story is important and needs to be respected
provide proper time for families to prepare and travel to an Inquiry
create a safe space for families
consider confidentiality and security
provide equality in an Inquiry – not discriminate between different communities or different Indigenous groups
provide legal support to families so that they understand how to navigate the legal system
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 and those that need to take care of them, particularly grandparents
media needs to not sensationalize, stigmatize, and stereotype the victims. The families and children are traumatized again by insensitive and racist media portrayals.
women and girls need to be taught on how to be safe in the cities when they leave small and close knit communities
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
recognition of original treaty relations, based in international law, must be restored
the justice system needs to be examined and racism addressed. An independent police force should investigate these cases and there needs to be liaisons between the police and family members
investigators and police need to communicate about the investigation with families to provide them with answers. Families want to know why cases are not moving and if they have gone 'cold'
racism in the RCMP needs to be addressed
education needs to be fixed, health, economy are all reasons for the vulnerability of Indigenous peoples
when RCMP members are recruited, they should be screened for their knowledge and understanding of Indigenous people
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. It should be mandatory that all Canadian citizens be educated on the true history of First Nations in Canada.
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:
open every morning with a drum and song
Indigenous ways of life and teachings need to be followed and respected
an Elders' Advisory Council needs to advise the inquiry and to carry on beyond the inquiry
autopsies interfere with traditional ceremonies, prayers and preparations for the spirit world
translate printed materials into Indigenous languages, including specific dialects, and ensure all participants can express themselves in their preferred language
a national monument with photos and names of murdered women and girls should be built, this will contribute to the healing process
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:
participants stressed the importance of not putting the inquiry "on the shelf" once complete
inquiry needs concrete outcomes and changes to be made across all levels of society
inquiry needs to deal with multiple levels of trauma, lateral violence, poverty that affects communities
need trained mental health services for families. It is a long-term need
when a loved-one goes missing in a different province, there are challenges around accessing information and collaboration among different policing levels. This challenge is exacerbated for people with limited income who cannot follow the case of their loved one when travel or other financial requirements are involved
need collaboration between different police forces
need to educate children about safety for prevention
a 1-800 line be set up that is anonymous and allows for people to submit tips and leads on cases
need a hotline when someone goes missing to allow for anonymous tips
need Indigenous search and rescue teams in each community that is properly funded
the trafficking of Indigenous women and girls needs special focus