In its final report, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls calls the violence a ‘Canadian genocide.’ (CBC)
After hearing more than 1,000 hours of testimony from survivors and families, a national inquiry says it’s only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) will be publicly released on Monday. CBC has obtained a leaked copy.
It makes 231 recommendations, termed “calls for justice” in the report, in response to what it says is a “Canadian genocide” spurred by “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies.”
“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” Bernie Williams, member of the grandmother council caring for Commissioner Michèle Audette, is quoted as saying in the report, titled Reclaiming Power and Place. “This is every Canadian’s responsibility not to turn a blind eye.”
Be prepared to ‘unlearn’
“The violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] people is a national tragedy of epic proportion,” wrote Chief Commissioner Marion Buller.
“For many non-Indigenous people, it’s important to be ready to ‘unlearn’ some learned behaviours,” the report says of next steps.
The inquiry officially began on Sept. 1, 2016, and was given a two-year mandate to examine systemic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls. The government granted a six-month extension in 2018, with the final report due by April 30, 2019. The inquiry had requested a two-year extension.
Among the report’s recommendations is a call for an immediate end to birth alerts — a system used by child welfare agencies to flag a person’s history, which may lead to a baby being apprehended from its mother in the hospital.
It also calls for a transformation of policing to reduce racism in police forces, and more funding to overhaul First Nations policing, bring rural and remote communities up to a higher standard, and better technology for sexual assault investigations.
Calls for changes to policing
“My hope would be that there is an immediate change of how the police handle Indigenous files on- or off-reserve so there’s no delay in pursuing every possible option to find that missing or murdered loved one,” Melanie Morrison, whose sister Tiffany was murdered, writes in a foreword to the report.
The report also makes specific recommendations around people with different sexual and gender identities, noting they are not included in the MMIWG label, but often experience similar violence.
For Indigenous 2SLGBTQQIA people, “discrimination based on race and gender is combined with homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of gender discrimination,” the report says.
It calls for the elimination of “either-or” gender options and creating a non-binary option wherever reporting gender is required.
Though two-spiritedness is part of some Indigenous cultures, many people testified about leaving home communities to seek acceptance in cities, where they were more likely to be sexually exploited, street involved or homeless, the inquiry’s report says.
Chief Commissioner Marion Buller addressing the media during the Winnipeg Community Hearing in October 2017. (Jillian Taylor/ CBC)
Buller says that the report is not an easy read and uses “hard words to address hard truths like genocide, colonization, murder and rape.”
She goes on to say these are the realities contributing to the national tragedy of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and that everyone has a role to play in addressing the crisis.
Testimony of survivors
The 1,200-page final report is broken down into three sections, under the titles “establishing a new framework,” “encountering oppression,” and “healing families, communities and nations.”
Testimony from survivors and family members is woven through the report to show the realities of the violence Indigenous people face systemically and physically.
In total, the inquiry heard from close to 1,500 people personally affected by violence.
More than 2,380 people participated. The commissioners publicly heard from 468 family members and survivors at 15 community hearings.
‘Government will be hesitant’ to adopt genocide conclusion from the MMIWG report | Naomi Sayers
Buller said the report is also about hope, getting past guilt and shame, and recognizing the truth.
‘Using the truth to rebuild our lives’
“For Indigenous peoples, this means using the truth to rebuild our lives, our families, our communities and Canada itself,” Buller wrote.
“For non-Indigenous Canadians, this means rethinking commonly held stereotypes, and confronting racism in every context.”
The hearing room for the MMIWG inquiry in Whitehorse. In total, the inquiry heard from close to 1,500 people personally affected by violence. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)
The calls for justice are broken down into four sections:
- Calls applying to all governments.
- Calls applying to industries, institutions, services and partnerships.
- Calls applying to all Canadians.
- Calls based specifically on justice for Inuit, Métis, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
The first 58 recommendations call on all governments to make changes to the structures and systems that contribute to violence.
“Also part of this national tragedy is governments’ refusals to grant the national inquiry the full two-year extension requested. In doing so, governments chose to leave many truths unspoken and unknown,” the report says.
How all Canadians can heed call for justice
A recurring theme of the report is that everyone has a role to play to end violence against Indigenous women and girls.
“Beyond those calls aimed at governments or at specific industries or service providers, we encourage every Canadian to consider how they can give life to these calls for justice,” the report reads.
The report also makes these recommendations to all Canadians:
- Denounce and speak out against violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
- Decolonize by learning the true history of Canada and Indigenous history in your local area.
- Develop knowledge and read the final report.
- Using what you have learned and some of the resources suggested, become a strong ally … actively working to break down barriers and to support others in every relationship and encounter in which you participate.
- Confront and speak out against racism, sexism, ignorance, homophobia, and transphobia, and teach or encourage others to do the same, wherever it occurs, in your home, in your workplace, or in social settings.
- Protect, support, and promote the safety of women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people by acknowledging and respecting the value of every person and every community, as well as the right of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people to generate their own, self-determined solutions.
- Create time and space for relationships based on respect as human beings, supporting and embracing differences with kindness, love, and respect. Learn about Indigenous principles of relationship specific to those Nations or communities in your local area and work, and put them into practice in all of your relationships with Indigenous Peoples.
- Help hold all governments accountable to act on the Calls for Justice, and to implement them according to the important principles we set.
Call for Justice 10 urges the federal government to annually report the progress it’s making on the implementation of the 231 calls.
“It’s got to be the government communicating with the different communities on all the issues that surround those communities,” Laureen “Blu” Waters, grandmother to Commissioner Brian Eyolfson, says in the report.
“Whether it be water, whether it be land, whether it be suicides, whether it be missing persons, whether it be housing, whether it be lack of resources — the government has to start listening.”
The 1,200-page report will be publicly released Monday morning in Gatineau, Que.
A national, toll-free 24/7 crisis call line has been established to provide support for anyone who requires emotional assistance related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. For immediate emotional assistance, call 1-844-413-6649. You can also access long-term health support services such as mental health counselling and community-based cultural services through Indigenous Services Canada.