By Shari Narine
Members of the Assembly of First Nations’ Women’s Council are frustrated with waiting for – and not being consulted on – details for the upcoming national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
The federal government has yet to announce a date for the inquiry to start.
In a plenary session scheduled July 4 at the AFN’s annual general assembly to discuss an update on the MMIW inquiry, newly-elected chair of the Women’s Council, Deputy Grand Chief Denise Stonefish of Delaware Nation accused the government of “dragging their feet on… (what) should be one of the top priorities.”
Stonefish said that Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett met with the Women’s Council on July 11 in the evening and at that time could not offer any information on how the inquiry would proceed.
Bennett, along with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Status of Women Minister Patricia Hajdu, held cross-country pre-inquiry meetings with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Those meetings wrapped up earlier in the year.
Bennett had said the national inquiry would get underway in the summer. In a recent interview with the CBC, Bennett said the process was being delayed because some provinces were concerned about the costs involved. Bennett said she had assured them that the federal government would be picking up the tab.
“Today I publicly call on those provinces to join our national inquiry,” said British Columbia Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson, AFN portfolio holder of justice and a member on the Women’s Council.
Ted Quewezance, senate chair with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said there was supposed to be an announcement about the inquiry starting date in July. That has been pushed back to August.
“Our women are waiting,” said Quewezance.
Gottfriedson said that both the AFN and the Women’s Council have been kept out of the process in determining terms of reference and selecting commissioners. He said there are rumours as to who those commissioners are.
“Their job is to be able to look at ensuring that when they do get appointed that they come and meet with our women’s council, they come and meet with our national organization and also meet with our Nations across the country,” he said.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly, president of Sto:lo Tribal Council, is wary about the lack of inclusion in discussions.
“It makes me think we have to do more. Waiting for the government to come and help, we’re going to be waiting for a long time,” he said.
Quewezance said Indigenous women needed to be part of the process.
“I know the power that our women have, of them having control of the process versus the residential school process. People made money off survivors. If we’re going to have our women running our inquiry, make sure that our Indian and Metis and Inuit women are part of the process and being paid for what they do for this commission,” he said.
Quewezance also called for adequate supports for the families and communities involved in the national inquiry. He pointed to the wounds that had been opened during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work with Indian residential school survivors.
Kelly cautioned against Indigenous peoples viewing the national inquiry for more than it will be.
“Let’s not look for Minister Bennett, Minister Wilson-Raybould, (RCMP) Commissioner (Bob) Paulson to somehow produce a magic wand. That’s not going to happen, that somehow at end of this inquiry that our world will change,” Kelly said.
“The best that we can hope is that they will begin to hold their systems accountable so that when we encounter racist RCMP officers, they’re dealt with as Paulson has promised. We need to see change. We need to see those so-called justice systems hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct. If you want respect, earn it. If you want respect, show it and then we will believe.”