Halifax the latest stop for government MMIW inquiry consultations

Ministers want to hear from women who survived attacks.

Trina Roache
APTN National News
HALIFAX—Federal cabinet ministers Carolyn Bennett and Patty Hajdu say a national inquiry needs to go beyond the 1,200 names on the RCMP list of missing or murdered Indigenous women.

The Ministers for Indigenous Affairs and Status of Women met with families in Halifax today as part of a strategy to help shape the inquiry.

“There are many women, Indigenous women who’ve had very close calls, of losing their life or being abused or surviving domestic assault,” said Hajdu, who is minister for the Status of Women. “We’re going to have to find a way to enfold those that are still with us but who have experienced extreme violence in their lives.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister Bennett says that their understanding is evolving as a result of the cross-country tour meeting with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“When we originally designed this pre-inquiry we talked about families first,” said Bennett. “But I think we had left out the survivor category of people who actually, as Patty said, are still with us but it could’ve been them, it might’ve been them, it was almost them.”

Around 70 men and women from Mi’kmaq and Maliseet territory in Atlantic Canada spent the day with the ministers behind closed doors.

The familiar names from the headlines include Loretta Saunders, the Inuk university student murdered in 2014, and Tanya Brooks, the Mi’kmaq woman found dead in Halifax in 2009 and whose murder is still unsolved.

Hajdu says while some people may have been advocates for years, others are telling their stories for the first time.

“It’s very raw,” said Hajdu. “I mean, people are telling their stories of incredible trauma and of incredible loss.”

“It’s really intense, you know?” said Hart Perley, who founded the Indigenous Women’s Association for Mi’kmaq and Maliseet. “There’s a lot of broken hearts and broken spirits and that’s understandable. But everybody is able to express now how they feel and what they’re going through and they’re sharing it and it’s a positive step toward the right direction.”

Perley plans to take Wednesday’s information back home to Tobique, NB.

Another young Mi’kmaw woman named Michelle Ginnish was murdered in 2004.

“This issue is very near and dear to our hearts because we are Indigenous women,” said Perley. “And we do have women and girls that are very vulnerable and susceptible to any type of negative treatment.

Bennett said the inquiry into missing or murdered Indigenous women can build on the work of the TRC.

“People came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with an idea with how flexible and respectful commission could be,” said Bennett. “And even though this is a separate piece of work it’s intimately linked with the effects of residential schools.”

The scope of the inquiry will be vast. The ministers are hearing about issues around addictions, poverty, housing, policing and racism.

“Some of the people in the room were related to the perpetrator and the victim and so the incidents of child abuse, in terms of people understanding how a member of their family became a perpetrator, I think that has been the most moving for a lot of us,” said Bennett.

The families that come to the meetings, or make online submissions, are asked to fill out a discussion guide. This will be the tool that will help government decide what the inquiry should look like, who should participate, how culture can be incorporated, said Bennett.

“Most of the advice we’ve had is that this needs to be Indigenous-led,” said Bennett.

In the meanwhile, Hajdu said part of her mandate as Minister for Status of Women is to address housing concerns for all women, including those in Indigenous communities.

“I’ll be focusing on very closely to address this issue in the interim is the piece of my mandate that talks about strengthening shelter access and improving and enhancing transitional housing for women and girls.”

The ministers’ next stop for the pre-inquiry meetings is Quebec. The tour wraps up in Ottawa on February 15.

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