(Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson. APTN/Photo)
APTN National News
GATINEAU,Que.—The national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women should consider holding simultaneous hearings to ensure the “quiet” voices of all the families get a chance to be heard, according to a grand chief representing some of the poorest First Nations in the country.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said holding simultaneous hearings would also allow the inquiry to get quicker answers to the questions the families of the murdered and missing are seeking.
“Our issues in the north and the issues in the south in Manitoba alone are different,” said North Wilson, whose chiefs organization represents 30 First Nations in northern Manitoba. “When we come from our communities to the cities without guidance and support we become vulnerable. Not just the loud voices should be represented, but also the quiet ones.”
North Wilson said she would like to see Manitoba families, First Nations and organizations meet to prepare recommendations to submit to the three federal ministers handling the inquiry for consideration as they draft the terms of reference. The terms of reference will guide the inquiry’s work.
“We want to have a gathering to start with the preparation…to make sure all the perspectives and recommendations from our territories are led by our people and First Nations,” said North Wilson, a former CTV journalist. “We want to put the power…in our families and in our communities so they can participate and feel they are part of the process.”
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu are handling the inquiry file. The three ministers held a press conference Tuesday announcing the first phase of the inquiry, which includes cross-country pre-consultations with the families of the murdered and missing.
The first meeting with the families will be held in Ottawa on Friday.
The ministers are waiting to gather input from families, Indigenous communities and organizations before crafting the terms of references for the inquiry and selecting the commissioners who will hold the hearings.
North Wilson said the inquiry should examine the issues facing First Nation men and boys who are also victims of violence, along with a hard look at the RCMP and the role child welfare agencies play in creating vulnerable young women.
“(Child welfare) is a huge contributing factor because 80 per cent of young women and girls considered missing and murdered had involvement with (the child welfare system),” said North Wilson. “We know that 90 per cent of children in care in Manitoba are Indigenous so they are at risk right now of being on that list of statistics.”
North Wilson said the inquiry will also prove to be a painful exercise for many communities when they are forced to face some of the heart-breaking tragedies that have taken the lives of Indigenous women and girls.
“We have to look inwardly and it’s going to hurt sometimes,” she said.