AFN regional chief calls on Trudeau to take control of MMIWG inquiry

“Justin Trudeau needs to address this situation right away,” said Kevin Hart of the AFN.

(A recent photo of staff who work for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Source: National Inquiry)

A First Nations leader is calling on the prime minister to take control of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“Justin Trudeau needs to address this situation right away,” said Kevin Hart, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Manitoba.

Hart said the second executive director leaving the organization last week indicates a management problem that requires interference at the highest level.

He said the government that established, and is funding, the federal inquiry must help put it right, especially since commissioners are ignoring calls for new leadership.

“I honestly believe they need to have new commissioners there…to re-set in a new direction,” Hart said Monday.

Hart is not alone in suggesting some Indigenous leaders and families have lost faith in the present organization. He said Chief Commissioner Marion Buller remains in charge despite numerous calls for her to step down.

“I’m going to be reaching out to the Prime Minister’s Office to indicate that, because you hear that from the families – they want some kind of re-set or pause. What they see with the present commissioners, it’s not working,” he said.

Hart said the prime minister should speak to employees that have left so far (23 people) to hear where the problems are. Then put together a new team.

“Is it the staff? Is it the executive director or is it the commissioners themselves? Because if we get to the real root of all the problems then I think we can address that situation and move forward,” he said.

That would retain the testimony collected at eight public hearings so far and inject some new confidence into the process said Danielle Ewenin of Kawacatoose First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.

Ewenin was disappointed to see the inquiry fund a pricey team-building event for more than 70 employees in Toronto last week. While leaving a request for standing from a national family coalition unanswered.

“There’s no communication whatsoever … there’s been absolutely zero response,” said Ewenin.

APTN reported the all-staff event will cost up to $6,000 each for travel, accommodation and meals.

It’s an expenditure panned in a variety of Facebook posts over the weekend, including from Ewenin who wrote: “$450,000.00 team building. Yet they can’t come to Kawacatoose. Smh. Just makes me sad, they are allowed to get away with this.

“It’ll be up to the families to create change in policy in legislation and societal change. It’s always been on us. Shame on the National Inquiry. Shame.”

Ewenin said Kawacatoose, with a high number of missing and murdered victims, is still waiting to hear whether it will have its own hearing after inviting commissioners there last year.

Only 60 of an eligible 300 MMIWG families in Saskatchewan were heard at the hearing in Saskatoon in November she said.

So it’s against that backdrop of mixed performance that Sandra Lockhart is torn about the inquiry’s upcoming hearing in Yellowknife next week from January 23-25.

The survivor and family member views it as “a window of opportunity for Indigenous women that we may never see again” versus a farce “focused on hanging out the dirty laundry of what’s going on in the office.”

She plans to testify publicly about systemic issues that she says contribute to oppression and marginalization of Indigenous women. While, at the same time, she said it’s happening within their own inquiry.

“It’s sad but it doesn’t really, really surprise me. Indigenous women have been the most vulnerable population in Canada since contact,” she said.

Lockhart suggests the powers-that-be end the term of the present commissioners after the public hearings wrap up. Then turn the evidence over to a new team to inject fresh integrity into the critical analysis portion.

“It is hard to trust the process but starting again won’t make sense,” she said.

“The government needs to work with scholars and Indigenous Elders in order to select the new group and to develop the criteria for hiring staff.”

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