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MMIWG families gather in Ottawa on the eve of the national inquiry’s final ceremony

Indigenous

MMIWG families gather in Ottawa on the eve of the national inquiry's final ceremony

Holding signs and framed photos of the people they have lost, family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls came together in Ottawa on Sunday to remember their loved ones — and talk about what comes next.

'I feel like tomorrow we’re going to come full circle,' says Connie Greyeyes-Dick

Families have travelled to the capital region from across Canada to witness the final ceremony of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC )

It was a small, intimate gathering of families in front of the Centennial Flame in Ottawa on Sunday evening. A time for people who've travelled to the capital for the final ceremony of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to get grounded in prayer and to be together. 

Holding signs and framed photos of the people they love and have lost, each person had a chance to say a few words, and talk about what they're hoping to see once the inquiry's final report is officially handed over to the federal government.

“I want to make sure that Ottawa knows we're here,” said Maggie Cywink, a longtime advocate the missing and murdered.

Many of the families who showed up for Sunday's gathering have stood together before — meeting on Parliament Hill as efforts were underway to get the federal government to commit to holding a national inquiry.

The inquiry's final report, which will be officially unveiled on Monday, provides a detailed account of the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls. In total the inquiry final report puts forward 231 “calls for justice” levelled at federal, provincial and territorial governments, a wide range of institutions — and all Canadians. 

Evelyn Youngchief and Maggie Cywink have spent years fighting for Indigenous women and girls. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC )

Now the families who fought to get a full inquiry are committing to using their voices to push for action and implementation of the report's calls for justice.

“I feel like tomorrow we're going to come full circle,” said Connie Greyeyes-Dick, reflecting on the years of grassroots advocacy that went into making the inquiry a reality.

For some of the people gathered Sunday, it's been several years since the loss of their family member or loved ones. But no matter how much time has passed, families say grief is still there.

Jo Gunning's daughter Rene went missing in 2005. The 19-year-old from northeastern B.C. was last seen alive at the West Edmonton Mall where she befriended 16-year-old Krystle Knott. They told friends they were planning to hitchhike back home to B.C. and then they vanished.

Their remains weren't found until six years later near Grand Prairie, Alta. Nobody has ever been charged in relation to their deaths.

Jo Gunning said he misses his daughter every day.

“It doesn't get any easier talking about this stuff. The feelings come up again and people just don't understand that these feelings don't just go away.”

In the same breath, Gunning said he's one of the luckier people because at least his daughter's remains were eventually found. It's an unusual characterization, and yet one those around him understand well. 

Pamela and Jo Gunning, holding a photo of daughter Rene Gunning, came to Ottawa from their home in Tumbler Ridge five years ago to advocate for a national inquiry. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

This isn't the first time Gunning has been to Ottawa pushing for change. He said he was on Parliament Hill five years ago with his wife Pamela — adding their voices to the calls for the federal government to call an inquiry.

Now, like those around him, he wants to see action.

'We want action, we want justice'

Carol Martin wants firm commitments around implementation. She wants to see timelines so people can know when to expect change.

Martin is a longtime advocate for the safety of women and girls working in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and is an organizer of the annual women's memorial march that happens in the Vancouver every year on Feb. 14.

Ahead of the closing ceremonies, we look back at the MMIWG inquiry. 3:54

“I don't want this report to be on a shelf where it's just collecting dust,” she said.

“We want action, we want justice,” Kaylin Watson said, holding two photos in her hand. Photos of three smiling faces —Kaylin, her mother Linda, and younger sister Krystina.

“My sister was only 15 years old. My mom was looking for love in all the wrong places,” she said.

Watson's mom and sister were killed in a murder suicide, perpetrated by her mom's former partner in 2017.

The loss devastated the entire community in Moberly Lake in northeastern B.C.

“He's left a giant hold in our community's heart,” she said.

The murders of Linda Watson and her daughter Krystina Haggard sparked sadness and anger in their small, northern community. (Linda Watson/Facebook )

And then, she turned to those around her and said,  “I'm just happy to be here to show my love and support to the other families.” 

As the evening drew to a close, the sun setting behind them, the group clustered in an even smaller circle and ended in prayer.

Organizer Maggie Cywink said she hopes all Canadians are paying attention to what's coming out in this final report. She said it will take all Canadians to make real change a reality. 

“I want Canadians to know that we want to work together,” she said. 

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