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Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett listens as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Canada – Modern Treaty and Self-Governing First Nations Forum, in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. OTTAWA — The promises are enormous. In the next two years, the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women says it will hold up to 21 institutional and expert hearings to investigate issues ranging from human trafficking and sexual exploitation to health care and addiction services. It will commission external reports about the criminal justice system, colonial violence, advocacy and the media. It will conduct original research into the Indian Act and certain sections of the Constitution. It will continue to hear from the hundreds of survivors and family members who still want a chance to tell their stories.

That’s if the national inquiry is granted the two-year extension it requested on Tuesday, which would extend its mandate through to the end of 2020 — and the up to $50 million in additional funding it says it needs to pay for it, money that would nearly double its existing budget.

“Any extension of less than two years would severely limit the value of our work,” the inquiry’s four commissioners wrote in a letter to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett earlier this week.

The tasks the commissioners hope to add to their remit would represent a significant expansion of the inquiry’s work — especially noteworthy given the slow progress the inquiry has made so far, including on its ambitious commitment to review police files . Notably, Tuesday’s letter revealed that forensic review isn’t yet underway, while the inquiry claimed last July that it already had a forensic team reviewing files.

During a teleconference on Tuesday, Commissioner Michèle Audette said the police review remains a major priority. And the inquiry has long maintained that many of its delays have been caused by logistical and bureaucratic challenges that are now being resolved.

Still, early reactions from Indigenous organizations make it clear the inquiry no longer has unconditional support from many quarters. Even those groups that support an extension are ambivalent, and say changes are needed if the long-awaited national inquiry, launched in September 2016, is to succeed at all.

To date, the Assembly of First Nations has backed the inquiry’s request, while the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Inuit in Canada, have yet to take a position. But other groups, like Pauktuutit, an organization representing Inuit women, are already saying they can’t support the ask for more time and money.

“We’re going to wait for two more years for the recommendations to be complete and acted on, and we feel that how many more women are going to be… murdered while that’s happening?” said Pauktuutit president Rebecca Kudloo. Frustrated with the inquiry’s progress to date, Kudloo said the $50 million the inquiry is asking for would be better spent providing tangible services in remote communities, like shelters and addictions counselling. I’m not saying throw this under the bus. … I just don’t think two more years is going to help us get there. At this point, she said, more original research is not where the inquiry should be focusing its efforts. “There’s been so much work done on violence against women and what we need as Inuit that I don’t think the inquiry should start from scratch,” she said.

Kudloo believes the inquiry should continue to gather information through the end of 2018, and should then take just six months to complete its report and make recommendations.

Melanie Omeniho, president of the Women of the Métis Nation, said her organization has […]

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