A recent CTV News survey shows that most Canadians (72 per cent, in fact) think that the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is important or somewhat important and “should continue, even if it requires additional costs and time.” The poll also suggests that more than half of Canadians think that the Inquiry will improve the understanding of Indigenous issues outside of their communities. Is that actually happening though?
While the MMIW Inquiry is consuming and altering the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada, non-Indigenous Canadians often enjoy (mostly unconsciously) the privilege of not knowing the details. Like it or not, acknowledging that and vowing to do better is part of reconciliation and improving relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.
While there are numerous systemic problems facing Indigenous communities across Canada (the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did create 94 Calls to Action), the MMIW is just one of the many things left to do. It is the government response to the Commission’s 41st Call to Action and its final report is due at the end of 2018.
Why is this important?
A 2013 report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action found that Indigenous women report instances of violence (including sexual assault) at rates three and a half times higher than non-Indigenous women. They are also five times more likely to die of violence than non-Indigenous women of the same age. Stats like that require investigation.
In September 2016, commissioners began the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls with an additional focus on those who identify as two-spirited, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer. The Inquiry is centered around “trauma-informed and culturally appropriate” hearings where family members of victims from across Canada tell their stories. The Inquiry is to “examine the systemic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women, girls and members of the LGBTQ2S community in Canada” and honour those stories.
What are the goals here?
The MMIW outlines three main goals for these hearings: “finding the truth,” “honouring the truth” and “giving life to the truth as a path to healing.”
What challenges have the Inquiry faced?
Over the past year and a half, the Inquiry has seen numerous challenges and left some participants disillusioned. Families of victims have said that the process seems disorganized and there is a distinct lack of communication from the commissioners to the public. This could be because the commission is mostly made of judges who have no media training (and in fact, were required to avoid the media during their careers) but it also evokes concerns about transparency and focus.
The Inquiry has also lost several key staff members (including the lead lawyer and director of research) for various reasons during the hearings process. There have also been calls for Chief Commissioner Marion Buller (including that of a grand chief in Manitoba) to resign over the handling of the Inquiry.
Some staff have expressed that they might need an extension of the 2018 deadline to do the upcoming report justice and others (including participating families) are calling for an entire reset with a new system and new staff.
For more detail on all the challenges faced over the past year, the Globe and Mail has broken it all down.
Is this helping?
As the Globe reports, the Inquiry has been plagued with setbacks, but the hearings themselves are functioning well to uncover the truth and tell the stories of families who have been ignored and dismissed by authorities. Many family members of victims have never told their stories aloud before and this process has been a crucial therapeutic step in the healing process. There are certainly improvements and changes that could and should be implemented, but it is a step in the right direction and it looks like most Canadians see that.