Families from across Nunavut are in Iqaluit today to take part in the pre-inquiry meetings into missing and murdered indigenous women with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. 

"We were affected by this tragedy 11 years ago and it's still hard 'til this day to just think back," said Danielle Cormier, who traveled from Moncton, N.B., to take part, along with four of her siblings. 

Her mother, Sylvia Lyall Ritchie, originally from Taloyoak, Nunavut, was strangled to death by her common law spouse in Iqaluit in 2004. 

"She was murdered by her common law and it's something that is actually really hard to bear, it's very tough," said Jayko Ritchie, Cormier's brother.

Danielle Cormier and Amanda Lyall

'The women that are being affected and are too scared to say something, just find it in your heart to talk to somebody because it could be too late just like it happened to us,' said Danielle Cormier. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Even after more than a decade, Lyall Ritchie's children are still haunted by her death.

"It's not just the indigenous women who are being affected, it's also everybody that they have around them, their entire families," said Ritchie.

"When a woman, mainly a mother, gets hurt in any way, it doesn't just affect her, it affects everybody else in the most drastic ways, it hurts," he added, holding back tears.          

All the siblings say they are taking part in the pre-inquiry because they want to get people talking about violence against indigenous women.

"Nobody else would know other than those who are affected," said Ritchie, "so I think that it is a good thing to come and talk to the families who have been affected because we all know what should be done, and how it should be done."

Carolyn Bennett

Carolyn Bennett arrives in Iqaluit on Jan. 28 to hold pre-inquiry engagements with the family members of missing and murdered indigenous women. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Ritchie said the inquiry can do a lot to educate people.

"Probably a little bit more awareness and probably some action, something to happen for it to stop, because a lot of women in the North and in the N.W.T and families are suffering," he said. "Nobody should have to go through anything like this. Something should be done."

Amanda Lyall, another one of Lyall Ritchie's children, traveled from Fort Nelson, B.C., to take part in the meeting.

She's having a hard time talking about her mother, but she agrees that the inquiry can make a difference.

"It's a good first step," said Lyall, "it gets people talking."

Above all Lyall Ritchie's children want to make sure that action is taken so that other women escape violence in time. 

"The women that are being affected and are too scared to say something, just find it in your heart to talk to somebody because it could be too late just like it happened to us," said Cormier through tears. "Come out and don't be afraid because there's people to help that really do want to help."

Finding answers

From the time that Nunavut was created in 1999 to 2012, RCMP have reported the murder of 20 aboriginal females in the territory. The statistics do not offer a breakdown between women and girls.

Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., says the inquiry will help shed light on underlying issues that contribute to violence against women.

Cathy Towtongie

'There has been no answers,' said Cathy Towtongie, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. 'What types of protective mechanisms are there for aboriginal women including children?' (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"There has been no answers," she said. "What types of protective mechanisms are there for aboriginal women including children?"

"I'm glad about that inquiry but what objectives do we need to reach as a country? That's the question you and I have to answer."

Towtongie said the inquiry needs to take a hard look at how RCMP are delivering services and what needs to be improved in the criminal justice and social services systems to meet the needs of indigenous women and children.

Sharon Reashore, Nunavut's Director of Child and Youth advocacy services, also welcomes the inquiry, which she says "could clearly lead to positive change for Nunavut's children, youth and their families."

"We welcome its pre-inquiry meetings that aim to engage families, aboriginal organizations and government in the development of the inquiry itself," she said in an email.

"We welcome its potential for change."