OTTAWA – If you type “1,200 to 4,000” into any search engine, a long list of articles written on Canada’s Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) will appear — including recent articles that say the number of MMIW cases has risen from 1200 to 4000.
Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, who was recently inducted as an honourary witness by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) said “the number hasn’t actually officially changed”.
“It’s just that as we were travelling across the country, we realized that there were many cases that had not been investigated, or caught in the 1200. And there were women who had been pregnant when they were killed and we felt that that number should be counted as well; as two rather than one,” said Wesley-Esquimaux.
“And there’s collateral damage; a girl is killed or a mother is killed, there might be suicides related to that as well,” she explained. “A family could be imploding because of the loss of a daughter, mother, sister, brother and it’s not caught in those numbers; so the 1200 are just officially investigated cases. So, the issue is, what about all of those other ones that aren’t caught in those actual numbers and what do we do about that?”
In regards to the inquiry itself, Wesley-Esquimaux explained that it’s an effort that will hopefully be up and running in the summertime.
“As I understand it, the pre-inquiry process is completed as of February, or the last time we were in Ottawa,” she said. “The ministers have said that they want to see this up and running by the summer — this summer — so probably June or July,” she said.
“The idea is to make this as comprehensive and as concise as possible,” she said. “Nobody wants to do this for years and years, they want it to be addressed immediately. How that will happen, we don’t actually at this juncture know, but it’s part of the conversation that they will now be assessing,” she said.
Her involvement with the TRC has also been a labour of her own feelings on the subject of MMIW, as she explains that the inquiry means so much to so many.
“I feel very relieved, I mean I have four daughters,” she said. “This goes beyond indigenous girls and women, this is about having women and girls be safe in this country. It goes beyond and it addresses the question of how indigenous peoples are regarded by law, by the courts, and by the general population. So, I think it’s going to address some very strong components of some of the struggles that people are having, and I think it’s time. It’s very timely, and it’s going to be a very powerful force to create that systemic change that is necessary to make this country understand itself better,” she said.
“We need to do this right, we need to ensure that the conversation is inclusive of the indigenous community, we need to ensure that the Canadian population is with us on this, we need to ensure that adequate resources are used, we need to ensure that it’s a long-term process, not just a hit and run, it’s that it goes on and it cleans up the misconceptions into the future, and education is a critical component, we need to ensure that our schools now have imbedded in them the proper history of this country,” she said.
Wesley-Esquimaux is also the Vice Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay and Orillia, Adjunct Assistant Professor for the Faculty of Anthropology and Research Affiliate of the Centre for Health Care Ethics.