What sounds like a small federal grant should make a big difference in the lives of some grieving families, a First Nations elder says.
“Miigwetch for giving funding so that we can go on,” Lorna Standingready told Justice Minister David Lametti during a virtual announcement Thursday.
“It costs to travel when there’s a voice calling for help.”
Lametti said Regina-based Caring Hearts Counselling would receive $332,270 over three years to develop a culturally appropriate counselling model for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) and gender diverse people.
There are as many as 4,000 MMIWG in Canada, according to a national inquiry into the issue funded by Lametti’s governing Liberals.
He said supporting MMIWG families on their healing journeys “is a priority” for his government. The funding for Caring Hearts is coming from his department’s Victims Fund.
“Victims, survivors and their families need access to support, need access to resources, and need access to information to help them navigate the justice system,” Lametti said from his office in Ottawa.
“This is even more complex for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”
Standingready, from Peepeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan, works with victims, survivors and family members on behalf of Caring Hearts.
She said they need to connect with their culture and tell their stories to someone who understands.
“They look for help,” she said from Regina. “So the best way is to take them back to our old way.
“We listen to stories of the past, of what happened (in) the present now. And how did it happen, and where and why.”
But Marion Buller, former chief commissioner of the national inquiry, said this spending was a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed nationally.
“That’s really not a lot of money,” she said in an interview.
Buller was also disappointed Caring Hearts is not an Indigenous-led organization. She did give it points for having an Elder-informed program.
Caring Hearts said the money would help create an elder-inspired toolkit to educate non-Indigenous agencies on intergenerational trauma, MMIWG, and traditional methods of healing.
Still, Buller wondered why the federal government was doling out services piecemeal instead of delivering a comprehensive national action plan.
The inquiry’s final report identified, among other things, “a dire need for help…” Buller noted.
“Should we be grateful for any money that goes towards MMIWG families and survivors?”
Last spring, the Liberals promised to spend $2.2 billion to reach goals compiled in the inquiry’s 1,200-page final report with 213 calls to justice.
“The MMIWG plan is not intended to be a final plan but one that is evergreen (continually evolving) and requires monitoring and reporting on progress, as well as further co-development (with Indigenous peoples) and course correction as required,” the government said at the time.
Lametti referred questions on a national action plan to his counterparts for Crown Indigenous Relations and Indigenous Services Canada.
A reply from those departments wasn’t available by press time.
Meanwhile, Lametti’s announcement was made the same day Human Rights Watch released its 2022 World Report.
The agency quoted new data from Statistics Canada that found more than six out of 10 Indigenous women reported experiencing physical or sexual assault at some point in their lifetimes.
It further found 83 per cent of Indigenous women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, or transgender had experienced intimate partner abuse.