MKO chief offers conditional support of MMIWG inquiry chief commissioner

It’s a 180-degree shift from December 2017 when North insisted Buller resign as commissioner.

There appears to be a compromise between MKO and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls that could change who’s in charge.

Sheila North, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said Friday she has adjusted her view of Chief Commissioner Marion Buller.

“Instead of lead Commissioner Marion Buller leaving (we propose) that all four of them co-lead at the same time so they can hold each other accountable,” North told APTN News.

North said “unofficially” she’s been told the proposal is being strongly considered.

It’s a 180-degree shift from December 2017 when North insisted Buller resign.

“The ability and authority to make decisions will be shared by all of them, not just by Commissioner Buller because I didn’t feel she had the leadership necessary for this kind of undertaking.”

North says the proposal is supported by other grand chiefs in Manitoba to show “we are trying to compromise and to come to a better agreement and solution.”

So far, the inquiry has held 11 public hearings across the country. Late Thursday it announced a return trip to Manitoba to hear from survivors in the northern part of the province later this month.

However, the commission has still not filed a much-anticipated request for an extension.

North says her support is conditional.

“I told them that if they don’t co-lead and if they don’t change their way forward and process, I won’t be able to support an extension,” she said in an interview.

“Because I don’t want more of the same and neither do the other grand chiefs.”

The inquiry has struggled to retain staff and gain momentum, sowing doubt in its ability to pull off its mandate.

The blame has been heaped on Buller, a former judge in B.C., who hasn’t responded to calls she step down from leading the $54-million inquiry since the two-year probe was announced in 2016.

She has remained at the helm since North and others urged her to resign at a special chiefs’ meeting of the Assembly of First Nations in December 2017 in exchange for their support of an extension.

“I’m hoping to hear back immediately on it,” North added. “I think we don’t have a lot of time to waste anymore.”

Buller wants another two years to probe the factors that lead to violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Also in Ottawa this week, Buller met with Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

“It was a meeting scheduled a while back to talk about the interim report,” Bennett’s spokesperson said in an email. “We have not received a formal request (for an extension) yet.”

Chief Comm. Marion Buller.

No explanation has been offered as to why the request for an extension is taking so long, keeping some groups on edge.

“We have been monitoring the MMIWG Inquiry for updates,” said a spokesperson for Pauktuutit, the Inuit women’s organization, in an email to APTN News. “We still have not seen anything thus far.”

Pauktuutit is one of several national groups with legal standing, which gives them access to in-camera witness testimony and the ability to question those witnesses.

A spokesperson for the inquiry told APTN they are working on the request.

It needs not only federal approval, but sign-offs from provincial and territorial governments across Canada.

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