Manitoba families want their say on how MMIW inquiry should work

Manitoba's Special Advisor on Aboriginal Women's Issues for the province said it's important Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn't rush an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Nahanni Fontaine says it's crucial families are included in MMIW inquiry. (CBC)

Manitoba's special advisor on Aboriginal Women's Issues for the province said it's important Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn't rush an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Nahanni Fontaine said it's crucial those who have lost loved ones are consulted throughout the process to ensure the inquiry is meaningful and structured in a way that allows the families of missing and murdered women and girls to be involved.

In fact, she's already heard family members say they'd like the opportunity to meet with the prime minister in person to share their own personal stories. 
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau receives a gift of sweetgrass and a canoe from National Chief Perry Bellegarde after addressing the Assembly of First Nations congress in Montreal on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"I've had the privilege of working with families for the last 17 years. You get that real intimate understanding, that spiritual, that emotional, that mental understanding of what families go through. What a mother goes through when two body parts are returned to her. Or, what a mother goes through when, you know, the coroner calls her and says, 'Here's the vertebrae of your daughter,'" said Fontaine.  

"What the families want is for the prime minister to truly feel and understand this issue."

The day after winning a majority government, Trudeau vowed to uphold his campaign promise to hold an inquiry and soon. 

Fontaine said she's already started meeting with families here in Manitoba about their vision of a national inquiry, adding the same thing is happening in other cities across the country. 

"I think that it's really important for people to kind of just step back and do those really important steps first," said Fontaine.  "And if you were to do a sample across the country of families, they would say to you, 'Yeah, the most important step is first to meet with us and hear how we envision a national inquiry, how we would like to see it structured, how we would like to see it executed.'"

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister vows families will be consulted

Following the federal government's swearing in ceremony on Wednesday, the new Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is hugely important and families will be consulted. 

"It has to actually do the things that the families need," said Bennett. "They want not only justice. They want support. But they want to make sure this doesn't happen to any other families after this. We have to end this tragedy and this epidemic."

Hope the 'commitment is real'

That is welcome news to Bernadette Smith. 

Smith is one of the people behind a new social media campaign, #ourinquiry. She said organizers wanted to ensure the prime minister understood the importance of hearing from Canadians directly affected. 

Her sister Claudette Osborne has been missing from Winnipeg since July, 2008. 
Bernadette Smith's sister Claudette Osborne, has been missing since 2008. (CBC)

"I would share [the] story of my sister and tell him some of the things we would like to see happen," said Smith. "We would really like to see a woman commissioner appointed to this issue and families' voices at the forefront, because many of our families have not been heard … We really want [Trudeau] to be connected to this in a real personal way and we want him to fall in love with our loved ones as much as we love them."  

Smith has been working tirelessly for years to bring the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls to the forefront. She said she hasn't always been in favour of a national inquiry. But, fighting back tears, she said with this new government comes a new sense of hope. 

"It's emotional for me because there's something actually going to be done about it," said Smith. "Our indigenous population has been treated [as if they were] 'less than' for a long, long time. And I think with this new government, I think their commitment is real."

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