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Despite mounting criticism over the progress and process of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, some Indigenous women’s representatives warn that a “hard reset” could result in lost progress on this issue and perhaps be the death knell for the inquiry.

“The many families who participated in the Whitehorse inquiry have been very clear that they are quite upset with some of the calls for a hard reset, as if to say what they’ve contributed already was not of value … and also them questioning why they participated in the first place,” said Jennifer Lord, director of violence prevention and safety at the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

“It’s the first time we’ve done this. We have to remember too, that with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, they also had a few restarts until they finally really hit their stride,” she added.

Rather than criticizing, she said those invested in the process need to be “supportive as much as we can … because there are so many families out there that wanted this inquiry to happen, and that’s why we’re here today.”

RCMP data compiled in a 2014 report from more than 300 police forces in Canada found that between 1980 and 2012, a total of 1,181 Indigenous women and girls disappeared or were murdered.

For more than a decade, various groups and advocates have called for a national inquiry into the high volume of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Doing so was a campaign commitment of the new Liberal government, and on Dec. 8, 2015 it launched a two-month pre-inquiry process. On Aug. 3, 2016, the government announced its terms of reference for an independent national inquiry, and named five commissioners: chief commissioner Marion Buller, and commissioners Michèle Audette, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, and Brian Eyolfson.

The commission officially began its work on Sept. 1, 2016 and has been allocated $53.8-million over two years. An interim report is due on Nov. 1 and a final report is expected a year later, with the commission given until Dec. 31, 2018 to fully complete its mandate.

So far, it’s held testimony-gathering hearings in one community, the Yukon capital of Whitehorse, from May 29 to June 1. An amended fall schedule was announced last month, with the next community hearing now set for Sept. 25.

Since its launch, the commission has faced setbacks and criticism from various corners—including multiple open letters criticizing its process from families of victims, and others—which have dominated news headlines about its work.

Criticisms include poor communication from the inquiry, slow progress, use of a colonial and western legalistic process, barriers impeding participation by families of victims, and the need for a more trauma-informed approach.

On July 10, commissioner Marilyn Poitras officially resigned from her role. In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), she said she was “unable” to perform her duties “with the process designed in its current structure.”

The same day, the Ontario Native Women’s Association indicated that it cannot support the current format and approach of the inquiry, which has left “significant doubts on the ability to achieve” its mandate, said president Dawn Harvard in the open letter.

There have been a number of other commission staff resignations and departures, including executive director Michèle Moreau, director of community engagement, Waneek Horn-Miller, communications adviser Sue Montgomery, manager of community relations Tanya Kappo, and communications director Michael Hutchison.

In a July 11 news release, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) called for a restructuring of the national inquiry’s process to “correct fundamental issues in its framework.”

“The departure of a commissioner, immediately following the resignation of the executive director, is a clear […]

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