SIX NATIONS – Although hopeful, with the recently announced national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW), some are asking the question whether or not the inquiry will be effectively carried out.
The inquiry was announced by the Assembly of First Nations, grassroots activists and domestic and international advocacy groups and the Government of Canada.
“It’s definitely a start,” said Susan Barberstock, executive director of the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre. “At this point I am still uncertain as to how exactly they are going to go about it — what kinds of changes they will be making, how long it would take to complete, how it ties in with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the 94 calls to action or even if the families involved will receive some kind of funding.”
There have been five commissioners appointed to lead the independent inquiry and the five represent the background, characteristics and experience that the Government of Canada heard about in the pre-inquiry design phase. The government’s pre-inquiry phase that took place in in 17 communities earlier this year, gave the families of the more than 1,200 MMIW the opportunity to share their opinions.
“I think that the individuals they have selected to be on board for this inquiry are very influential indigenous community members and are looked upon in the eyes of many people as respectable and trustworthy,” said Barberstock. “From what I know about the people leading the inquiry, they will likely do a good job.”
The Chief Commissioner is Honourable Marion Buller and is joined by commissioners; Michèle Audette, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras and Brian Eyolfson.
Being in charge of leading the inquiry, the commissioners are likely going to have to listen to and endure heartbreaking stories of loss, death, confusion and more. Barberstock hopes that all the groups involved are mindful of the commissioners well-being and offer them support.
“I hope the panel members are heard and that their words are valued and they are offered support,” she said. “The information they are going to be listening to is going to be very hard to swallow and I hope everyone involved understands that.”
The inquiry is going to have a heavy focus on the families involved as well as changes and improvements that could be made to all of the systems that have been part of MMIW history and the root causes of violence towards indigenous women and girls.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that the inquiry, “will focus on the root causes of the disproportionate rates of violence against indigenous women and girls and the extent of the vulnerability to violence. We need to identify the causes of those disparities and take action now to end them.”
Executive Director of Ganohkwasra Sandra Montour said that her first impression is that she is pleased with the direction the inquiry seems to be headed in.
“It seems like there will be a large focus on the different systems involved and what kinds of changes might need to be made to make the system better,” said Montour. Ganohkwasra is a family assault support service organization in Ohsweken that affirms respect for their traditional roles as Onkwehon:we women, men and children and uphold the principles of the centrality of the family within their society.
“At Ganohkwasra we believe that responsibility belongs to everybody. Whether you are a government worker, a local business owner, a shelter operator, native, or non-native, there are always things we can do better and that’s what we try to convey here. It’s so important for the families to be understood, heard and valued — that’s something I really need to see be a priority in this inquiry.”
Since the inquiry is directly related to violence against indigenous women and girls, Montour understands why the commissioners who have been brought on are mostly women, yet is happy to see one male on the board of commissioners.
“I understand why they chose women to be on the panel, but based on how we work here at Ganohkwasra, our values and how we do our best to place responsibility on everyone involved in a family unit, I’m glad to see a male on board,” said Montour. “To see real change we need to have everybody involved. This issue isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s a societal issue that everybody needs to work together on.”
Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Chief Ava Hill feels the inquiry must also include men and boys, and the impact on families in First Nation communities. “If we are to take a non-discriminatory approach and are genuinely concerned with helping all victims of violence and homicide, then we need to support the families as they get involved in the process which should include men and boys. And by strengthening the support in our communities we will be doing our part to help bring this national tragedy to an end.”
Barberstock said that she wants to see this inquiry become a valuable document that will help change the way documenting and solving cases against violence against indigenous women and girls are handled.
“I really hope that this inquiry doesn’t become just another report that’s going to sit on a shelf and collect dust.”