After five years, ‘calls for justice’ on MMIWG2S+ issues still not complete

Indigenous communities remember and demand action

It was a quiet morning as Parliament Hill prepared for a day of remembrance for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people (2SMMIWG).

Sunshade tents popped up on the Hill early, solemn community partners hung red dresses along the barricade fences, drummers and singers warmed up their instruments.

Hosted by the Assembly of Seven Generations, Families of Sisters in Spirit, Octavaw COCVFF and the Women of the Métis Nation, the round dance started in the midday heat with supporters, curious on-lookers and students on class trips.

“This Round Dance is for all of the grief our survivors and families experience. We knew that the outcomes and completion of those calls for justice probably wouldn’t be completed,” said Gabrielle Fayant, cofounder of the Assembly of Seven Generations.

“We knew that because we see it on the ground. We can see it constantly. We also want to use this as a way to remind those in power that this is real and that the grief is extremely overwhelming.”

Justice MMIWG2S+
Co-founder of the Assembly of Seven Generations, Gabrielle Fayant, welcomes the crowd on Parliament Hill on Monday. Photo: Kerry Slack/APTN

Inside the West Block of Parliament Hill, the Assembly of First Nations, (AFN) started the day with a news conference.

June 3 marks the fifth anniversary of the final report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The national inquiry delivered 231 “calls for justice” aimed at protecting Indigenous women and girls from going missing or being murdered.

According to the AFN, only two of the recommendations have been met. There has been too little systemic change across the country, said AFN National Chief Cindy Woodhouse-Nepinak.

“There is a long, winding road ahead to address and prevent all forms of gender-based violence,” she told reporters.

“But together, with all Canadians, we remain hopeful that we can get there step by step.”

The final report was delivered to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. It concluded that the MMIWG crisis amounted to a genocide.

The calls for justice were aimed at all levels of government and sectors in society, including governments, police, health providers, the justice system and the media.

There have been constant calls from advocates for more funding from all levels of government for Indigenous housing, justice, and programs for LGBTQ people that they say would keep women and girls safer.

The 2019 inquiry concluded Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to go missing or be murdered than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

The final report was the culmination of testimony from more than 2,380 family members, survivors, experts and knowledge-keepers over two years to understand the crisis and come together to form solutions.

Family members spoke of intergenerational trauma and the impacts of poverty as compounding factors, while knowledge-keepers highlighted how women, through colonization, have been displaced from their traditional roles.

“The steps to end and redress this genocide must be no less monumental than the combination of systems and actions that have worked to maintain colonial violence for generations,” the report said.

Justice MMIWG2S+
Red dresses hung in commemoration of survivors and their families at Parliament Hill. Photo: Kerry Slack/APTN

However, Woodhouse Nepinak said governments have abdicated their responsibilities five years after its publication, and inaction is unacceptable for First Nations peoples.

She said she hopes it’s not acceptable for Canadians, either.

Woodhouse Nepinak called on governments and their agencies to bring forward meaningful change based on justice and respect for human rights, with survivors and their families in mind, including the appointment of an Ombudsperson to ensure the communities are being heard.

“There needs to be substantial investment in Indigenous communities, Indigenous-led organizations to do the work. We know what we need to do in order to provide the programs and services for families and survivors to do prevention,” said Amanda Kilabuk, director of the MMIWG2S+ Urban Indigenous Action Group.

“It means housing, it means access to healthcare, it means food security, it means guaranteed livable income. It means employment opportunities, there needs to be access to shelters, there needs to be more investment in all aspects of daily living.”

Grassroots are the solution

NDP MP from Manitoba, Leah Gazan, agrees the solutions must start from the ground up.

“We have pushed this government, but they continue to fail our communities. Meanwhile, gender-based violence is increasing. The supports are just not getting out the door to save lives,” she said. “This sends a very clear message that this country cares more about cars than it does about ending the ongoing genocide against Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit individuals. This has to end and we know that there are solutions.”

Gazan added, “Families are now looking in landfills for loved ones where this could have been avoided with proper health care, access to mental health supports, affordable housing and guaranteed basic income.”

Bridget Tolley, whose mother was killed near Kitigan Zibi First Nation in Quebec, wants action and answers.

“They (the federal government) know what’s happening. It’s not good. Two recommendations in five years? How many years is it going to take? How many generations are going to pass before we see any changes? I’m here with my great-great-granddaughter so, in my family, that’s already been four generations since my mother left us.

“Some days are so hard, still. I am really thankful to those who are here supporting us today.”

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