MMIWG national inquiry lacked federal support from the beginning says former chief commissioner

There were indications the federal government was not taking the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls seriously, even before it had called its first witness according to the former chief commissioner.

“The federal government was not at all ready for the work that we had to do and to help us do it,” says Marion Buller on the latest episode of Face to Face.

Buller says when she started in her role as chief commissioner on Sept. 1, 2016, the commissioners were using their own cell phones and emails, there were no offices and no staff. It would take another nine months to get things up and running.

“It was an indication of the lack of high priority given to the national inquiry,” says Buller.

Over the next two and a half years, the MMIWG inquiry was faced with numerous resignations, including one of the commissioners, and delays.

Buller says the media, rather than focusing on the work being done, “turned our work into some sort of reality show of who was still left on the island.”

The national inquiry was originally given 28 months but Buller says nine months was lost due to a lack of resources at the beginning.

Commissioners, knowing the two-year timeline was too tight, requested a two-year extension. The federal government provided the national inquiry with an additional six months.

Buller feels much more could have been done with an additional two years, including looking into the impact of poverty, the incarceration of Indigenous women and girls, and more.

“The impact of man camps, for example on Indigenous women and girls and Two-Spirit people’s safety. Those are those large ATCO hut settlements that come up, sort of overnight, next to mines and other resource extraction projects,” she says.

“We just barely skim the surface of human trafficking and how that impacts the safety of Indigenous women and girls and Two-Spirit people. We needed to do a lot more work there and how that butts up against the sex industry, organized crime for example,

The final MMIWG report was released on June 3, 2019, and included 231 Calls to Justice. Buller is very proud of the work that was done and feels the voices of the survivors, families and other witnesses came through in the documents.

Buller says international courts, governments, and organizations from around the globe have shown interest in the final report. Buller believes there may have been more international interest than domestic.

While some governments, like the Northwest Territories and Yukon, have developed implementation plans, Buller says the federal government appears to have no plan.

“The federal government has fallen flat on its face. We don’t have an implementation plan. There hasn’t been any sort of cohesive statement on the part of the federal government about what it plans to do,” says Buller.

“There is no looking forward. If there is an implementation plan, I don’t know about it and they’re keeping it quiet. But, they have quite literally fallen flat on their face in terms of their responses.”

Much of the mainstream media coverage of the final report focused on the use of the word ‘genocide.’ Buller says the word was “used with purpose” and backlash to that was expected by the commissioners.

Buller feels there was a lot of “misquoting” and “superficial commentary by people who hadn’t even read the executive summary.”

It has been nearly three years since the final report was delivered to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and seven years since the national inquiry was first announced.

“The legacy, I hope, is an acknowledgment, as the Prime Minister already did, of the historic and ongoing genocide against Indigenous women and girls and 2S people. If we remember the national inquiry for nothing else than the word genocide, then I’d be happy,” says Buller.

“I have to add to that, that I just find it appalling that the federal government, through the prime minister had admitted to the situation at least amounting to genocide and yet they’re allowing it to continue without any sort of responsibility,” says Buller.

“I just find it appalling that the genocide is continuing, because it is and they’re not being held accountable.”

In November 2021, Buller was appointed Chancellor of the University of Victoria.


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