SIX NATIONS – Six Nations elder Janice Longboat has been selected as one of five overseeing elders as the Trudeau government launches its inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).
Longboat has long worked on behalf of indigenous women’s issues from spousal abuse to the institutional abuse through the residential school system. Now, she will have the opportunity to help with MMIW surviving families in finding some kind of closure to the loss of loved ones, it is charged, whose disappearance of murders have not been properly investigated by police agencies over the course of several years.
“It’s been such an honour to walk with the indigenous women survivors over the years,” said Longboat.
She began her work with the restoration of the dignity of indigenous women more than 40 years ago, in around 1972. Although she was lucky to have missed the residential school system, she suffered under the generational trauma from her father who attended the Mohawk Institute from ages 4 to 16 years, growing up with no positive parental examples or tools to raise his own family with.
“That is why I accepted the legacy of the residential schools and decided to do this work to assist the women, but also to heal myself.”
She was also selected to be a part of a 10 person health support team with the MMIW last winter, being involved with the three pre-inquiries in Ontario. There were 17 pre-inquiries across the country.
She and the others were on hand to assist almost 200 families in the healing process and helping women regain their voices through their grief.
Last week in Ottawa, she and the other selected women participated in the closing of the pre-inquiry and opening of the national inquiry and announcement of the commissioners for it.
“We got to meet and sit with the new commissioners,” said Longboat. “We will be available as advisors when called upon to explain certain elements of culture, ceremony and tradition. I was really quite emotional.”
Other elders selected include Claudette Commanda, Sally Webster, Monique Renaud, and Maria Campbell.
Terms of reference for the inquiry agreed to and endorsed by all provinces and territories were spelled out last week.
The inquiry will be led by Chief Commissioner, The Honourable Marion R. Buller, along with Commissioners Michele Taina Audette, E. Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, and Brian Eyolfson.
Because the inquiry is national, it will be able to look at systems and institutions that the participating provinces and territories are responsible for, such as policing and child welfare and make recommendations related to these areas.
The inquiry will be independent from the government and be empowered to make recommendations on how to best implement them. They will also have the power to call any witnesses to give evidence and order the production of documents relevant to the investigation.
It is hoped the inquiry will contribute to public awareness about the causes of and solutions for ending violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
The commission is mandated to review already existing reports on violence against indigenous women and girls. They will study the pre-inquiry data, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report, various reports on the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, the research findings from the Sisters in Spirit Initiative and the Report of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The newly formed Family Information Liaison Units (FILU) in the Victim’s Services office of each province and territory will be set up to assist families, loved ones and survivors of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Justice Canada is providing $16.17 million over four years for the FILUs and to increase culturally appropriate victim services, according to the terms of reference.
The Trudeau government promised not to wait to take action once the recommendations are released in 2018, referring to the announced $8.4 billion over five years to support Indigenous communities and the aspirations of Indigenous peoples.
“These new investments include educations, water, housing, training, and child and family services,” according to the guidelines. “This will begin to address some of the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and promote opportunity and inclusive growth.”
Studies on gender based violence will also be considered.
There will be an interim report in the fall of 2017 with the final report to be released in the fall of 2018.