By Shari Narine
The success of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry is important to April Eve Wiberg, co-founder of the Stolen Sisters Awareness Walk.
Next week she will be meeting one-on-one with members of the inquiry team when they come to Edmonton for three days of “family gatherings.”
“For myself, I have an appointment with them speaking from the perspective of a family member and survivor,” said Wiberg.
But even being a member of a grassroots organization, Wiberg is still unclear about the process.
“For those families and survivors really active on social media and have access to the Internet, getting that information is a little bit easier, but I always worry about those folks who don’t have phones or have limited or no access to the Internet. I just hope and pray that nobody gets left out of the process that wants to participate,” she said.
Don Langford echoes Wiberg’s concerns.
“Looking at what you have to go through to meet with these people there are just too many hoops to jump through. If they had wanted it done right, they should have come to our community and asked us to organize it,” said Langford, who has been in on at least one conference call with the MMIWG inquiry team.
“I could have put 200 people there through my connections and my staff, who are actually relatives of the murdered and missing.”
Langford’s organization, Metis and Child Family Services Society, holds monthly talking circles and has hosted two annual gatherings for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Those gatherings have brought in 200 family members.
This past year’s effort was cancelled as it was scheduled for the same week the national inquiry had a regional advisory meeting planned for Edmonton, April 18 to April 20. But on April 13, the commission issued a statement saying it was postponing upcoming regional advisory meetings because it had been told in Whitehorse that the meetings needed to be “reformulated (in a manner) that honours and reflects the people of their territories and is inclusive, accessible and focused.”
Melissa Carlick, community liaison officer with the MMIWG national inquiry, would not say how many family members the inquiry team is meeting with next week.
Although the notice for Edmonton’s community meetings only went up on the MMIWG website Wednesday evening, Carlick says she has three almost-full days scheduled with one-on-one sessions between family members or family units with lawyers, health services workers and community relations people.
These are members who registered during the course of the national inquiry process. Appointments are slotted for one-and-a-half hours.
“This is preparing them for the actual hearing,” said Carlick, who stresses it’s not a matter of families having to tell their stories twice. Instead, it’s about answering questions about the process, ensuring that families have all the legal documents they need when they meet with the commission, and that families know what they want to say. The commission will be in Edmonton the week of Nov. 6.
But as far as Langford is concerned, this is part of the “too many hoops.”
“We’re hoping they will take the recommendations from the families, the survivors and grassroots advocates seriously and make this more of an Indigenous approach then a colonial (approach),” said Wiberg.
According to the MMIWG website, next week’s meeting is part of a five-step process for family members. The fifth step is family members, with a lawyer, finally appearing in front of the commission.
Carlick’s team will also be assessing the health supports that are in place in Edmonton and connecting with the newly-formed Alberta Family Information Liaison Unit.
The four-member FILU was announced in May by Alberta Indigenous Relations with the mandate to interact with and support families of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls leading up to the national inquiry.
The announcement was made at Langford’s office and Langford said, at that time, he was “optimistic.” Now, however, he says FILU is four people who lack training, have yet to engage people, have no process in place, and do not know the Indigenous community.
“They are just people who have been hired into a job. They don’t work in the environment. My workers work in the environment. We live in the community. We are Aboriginal,” said Langford.
Carlick, who has already had dealings with FILU, says she has found the unit helpful.
While the stop in Edmonton is the only 2017 commitment in Alberta, Carlick says the 2018 schedule will include more engagements in the province, possibly Calgary and Fort Chipewyan.
“We’re just waiting to see what’s going to happen,” said Langford. “We have all these promises and everything that’s written, but we’re not sure what’s coming forward.”
Carlick is also community liaison officer for the Yukon, Northwest Territories and northern British Columbia. According to statistics presented by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, B.C. accounts for 28 per cent of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girl cases, and Alberta for 16 per cent.