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MMIWG inquiry report reflects the sorrow, strength of survivors and families: Sheila North

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Sheila North · for CBC News · Posted: Jun 05, 2019 5:00 AM CT | Last Updated: 14 minutes ago A woman listens to speakers during ceremonies marking the release of the missing and murdered Indigenous women report in Gatineau on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press) Like many in […]


Sheila North · for CBC News · Posted: Jun 05, 2019 5:00 AM CT | Last Updated: 14 minutes ago
A woman listens to speakers during ceremonies marking the release of the missing and murdered Indigenous women report in Gatineau on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Like many in attendance at the closing ceremonies of the final report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, I found myself with mixed emotions about the process that brought us to this moment.

I am reminded of the frontline activism and grassroots advocacy that put the national tragedy into the hearts and minds of Canadians, and which ultimately led to the creation of the inquiry.

Some of MMIWG survivors' families and advocates' work included very small public gatherings, that sometimes saw three people present. Other larger ones brought together thousands, on the streets and in communities, with children in tow, and in all kinds of weather.

All of them called for justice, answers and peace.

The large and small awareness walks ultimately resulted in victories, like the Amnesty International Stolen Sisters report 15 years ago.

Over the years, they've also brought the issue to the attention of First Nations leadership and national Indigenous organizations. Their efforts also resulted in a public commission of inquiry into missing women in B.C. in 2012 (the Oppal report).

And now the MMIWG inquiry report.

The total number of missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is highly disproportionate to the population of Indigenous women and girls in this country. We don't have a definitive number, but we do know they far exceed the 1,182 reported by the RCMP in 2012.

Some of the untold stories of resilience are part of a film I co-produced called 1200+, a documentary about the root causes and possible solutions to the MMIWG crisis.

Our film also touches on the grassroots activism, which led Canada to call for an independent MMIWG inquiry.

'The MMIWG families, survivors, advocates and allies — with their strength, beauty and resilience — were reflected throughout the inquiry process and in its final report,' says Sheila North. (CBC)

The government's resulting creation of the inquiry was therefore a victory; a validation and vindication for these grassroots advocates.

Their ongoing efforts had advanced the objective of ensuring justice for those who were murdered, or who have gone missing without a trace.

'A greater sense of empathy'

Most of these numerous grassroots advocates and activists have lost a loved one to this tragedy. Most of them represent the intergenerational impact of the many forms of violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls since contact.

These are the ones who I hold up and recognize as the true champions of justice for Indigenous women and girls.

I remain optimistic that Canada as a society can overcome the divisiveness that continues across the country.

It does not seem, though, as if all their recommendations were fully considered. The inquiry, once in place, expanded its mandate to include a broader range of issues, but it left out other critical subjects (like the role of police and the child welfare industry) until the later stages.

However, the MMIWG families, survivors, advocates and allies — with their strength, beauty and resilience — were reflected throughout the inquiry process and in its final report.

I also agree with the inquiry's final conclusion; the historical (and ongoing) violence, colonial underpinnings and attacks against Indigenous women and girls — and their rights — are an act of genocide against Indigenous and First Nations peoples as a whole.

The inquiry process has not always been ideal, and its internal turmoil may have ultimately affected the quality of the final reports.

But ultimately, I am pleased that it resulted in greater public awareness of the untold stories, history and scope of the issue.

The Canadian public now has a greater sense of empathy for the truly transformative work of the survivors and families who brought the tragedy to national prominence.

I remain optimistic that Canada as a society can overcome the divisiveness that continues across the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, holds a copy of the report presented to him by commissioners Marion Buller, centre, Michele Audette, third from right, Brian Eyolfson, second from right, and Qajaq Robinson at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

I am hopeful that Canada can continue to reconcile its history and special relationship that it has with Indigenous and First Nations peoples; for the benefit of the survivors and families, and for the safety and well-being of Indigenous women and girls in this country.

Some say the inquiry, with its $93-million budget, was a waste of time and money.

Some say that the resources could've been better spent on families and survivors themselves, to lift them out of poverty and vulnerability.

I will reserve judgment until more positive stories are told about our people, in a way that honours the elders and our history of strength and resilience.

In the meantime, I remember the frontline and grassroots activists. I was pleased to see them honoured during the closing ceremonies of the inquiry.

I honour everyone who made an effort to raise awareness about our missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and two-spirit persons.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Sheila North is a longtime missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls advocate and the former grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. She also co-produced the film 1200+, a documentary about the root causes of, and solutions to, the MMIWG crisis.

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