APTN National News
The federal government ignored a list of Inuk candidates to sit as commissioner for the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls from at least two national Aboriginal organizations opting instead to appoint its own choice.
That’s according to a source within Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) who spoke on condition of anonymity.
ITK is an advocacy group for Inuit in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut.
The source said that ITK submitted a list to Indigenous Affairs prior to the launch of phase two of the inquiry and expected the government to have at least one Inuk woman sit as commissioner.
“The ITK provided an extensive list of qualified Inuit commissioners,” said the source. “We were ignored.”
Nearly a week after the federal government launched phase two of the national inquiry, the president of Pauktuutit is also wondering why none of the five commissioners are Inuk.
“We have lawyers,” said Rebecca Kudloo from Baker Lake, Nunavut. “I don’t know why they (government) didn’t consider an Inuk person for commissioner.”
Commissioners Marion Buller, Michéle Audette and Brian Eloyfson are First Nations, and Marilyn Poitras is Métis.
Qajaq Robinson, the fifth commissioner, is not Indigenous.
“It’s something the government should have considered in this,” said Kudloo.
In it’s submission to the pre-inquiry consultations, having an Inuk commissioner was a common theme throughout the Pauktuutit presentation.
During the consultation, Pauktuutit told the consultations that the commissioners need to “equally represent Inuit, Métis and First Nations and that the nomination, by Inuit, of an Inuk/Inuit commissioners that are well known and respected by Inuit.
Having representatives from all Indigenous groups in Canada came up at a number of pre-inquiry consultations the government conducted.
Canada posted summaries of each of the sessions online.
“In terms of leadership of the inquiry, participants voiced the need to ensure that First Nations, Inuit and Métis are each represented among commissioners,” the report states.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told APTN National News that they have the right people taking on the task.
“We heard distinctly that we needed someone who heard and spoke Inuktitut, someone who understood the north, raised in the north, a true northerner,” said Bennett. And we heard from many people, very, very strong recommendations for Qajaq Robinson … and so we had many recommendations about this appointment and we feel it is a very good appointment.”
The government would not expand on who the people were that put Robinson’s name forward. Nor would the department put anyone forward for an interview to expand on the reasons for the snub as of this post.
Robinson is an Ottawa-based lawyer who graduated from the Akitsiraq Law Program – a partnership between the University of Victoria and Nunavut Arctic College. Born in Iqaluit and raised in Igloolik, the government says she is “a strong Northern advocate, who is fluent in Inuktitut and English.”
But is not Inuk.
“We are not considered qualified to be in the forefront of the inquiry? ” asked Kudloo. “Once again we have been left out.”
Left out again refers to years of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC went through two sets of commissioners but an Inuk was never one of them.
“How can a non-Inuk person know what we’ve gone through? How it feels,” asked Kudloo. “If I spoke Chinese, it doesn’t mean that I know what if feels like to be Chinese.”
Like Pauktuutit, the ITK also told the government about the importance of having an Inuk on the inquiry.
“At least one commissioner should be an Inuk woman,” wrote the ITK. “Participants indicated that there are many qualified and capable Inuit that could be involved with the Inquiry at all levels from commissioners to support workers. Ideally, Inuit lawyers and judges would be involved in leading the inquiry, and Inuit supports be used in providing services to participants.”
The ITK is not speaking about the issue now. President Natan Obed declined an interview request, and the organization would not provide a comment on the issue.
But the source said the ITK board was not consulted by the government on who the commissioners would be nor did the organization put Robinson’s name forward as a recommendation.
The summary of the pre-inquiry consultations handed to Indigenous Affairs also noted the importance of having commissioners that represent all regions.
“We heard that the inquiry should be independent, transparent and led by Indigenous women,” the summary said. “The leadership should represent Indigenous communities and regions.”
Kudloo told APTN that the organization put one candidates name forward to be commissioner. She said because of privacy reasons, she couldn’t divulge the person’s name.