“What about Michèle Audette? Why isn’t she here?”
And with that came the first note of discord in what has been an otherwise smooth and well-attended week of hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Audette’s home community of Maliotenam, in northeastern Quebec.
It was Jeanette Pilot who called out Audette during her testimony Wednesday.
“There is a reason, I wanna be honest with you,” she said, going on to condemn the inquiry as “colonial” and repeatedly mentioning the many resignations and firings.
“Ms. Audette betrayed women, the women who have fought for our rights.”
Pilot accused Audette of high-jacking an Innu women’s march to Montreal in April 2012 for an Earth Day demonstration that drew tens of thousands of people.
“They were politicizing our march,” said Pilot, who was then president of Quebec Native Women.
“And I saw with my own eyes, there were women who were supposed to climb up on stage, women who had walked from Maliotenam all the way to Montreal. And I saw them when we were in Montreal, we saw them talking in a corner and the organizers said: ‘Ms. Audette is going to speak.’”
Pilot said elections were underway for the Native Women’s Association of Canada that Audette would go on to win.
When asked about Pilot’s comments, Audette said the explanation was simple.
“I was working for Quebec Native Women, I was there in place of [AFN Quebec and Labrador Chief] Ghislain Picard, who asked me to be there to speak for him, because he couldn’t be there,” said Audette in French.
While she welcomes Pilot’s criticisms, Audette took issue with why she wasn’t at that particular hearing.
“It’s been several weeks that our team has been meeting families, including Ms. Pilot – on the format of the place and the format of their participation – and she specified that she did not want my presence there, as commissioner in the room,” she said.
Laurie Odjick, the Algonquin mother of missing teen Maisey Odjick, defended the inquiry.
“Honestly, every organization has staffing problems,” she said. “I think it’s people nitpicking and want the inquiry to fail.”
Odjick says she was flown to Maliotenam at the inquiry’s expense for what she described as a support role.
Earlier in the week, she also took issue with the inquiry after learning from executive director Debbie Reid there would be no hearings in Montreal without an extension.
“My heart is hurt, because I want answers,” said Odjick, who had been planning to testify in Montreal.
Chief Commissioner Marion Buller, one of four at the Quebec hearing, told APTN Montreal was still in the picture.
“From the very beginning we have been very certain that we will be holding a hearing in Montreal,” she said. “I’m not going to speculate anymore on what someone else has said.”
When asked if the Montreal comment highlights communication issues at the inquiry, Buller said: “That’s last month’s news, or even older than that now. It’s not even worth commenting on anymore.”
Despite repeated requests, Reid was not made available to answer questions about the Montreal hearing.
“I came here for myself, not for the commission. I came here for my people,” Pilot said at the end of her hour-long testimony.
For the most part, community members have been welcoming of the inquiry, filling the venue to capacity and leaving organizers scrambling to add more chairs.