Recap

Stories of trauma, resilience and hope told over 3 days of MMIWG hearings in Rankin Inlet

Survivors and family members testified in public and private about their experiences in the inquiry's only stop in Nunavut. They talked about abuse that's "rampant" in the territory and what needs to be done to stop it.

Survivors and family members told their stories publicly and in private at inquiry's only Nunavut hearing

Monica Ugjuk lit the qulliq and prayed at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. (Randi Beers/CBC)

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls spent three days in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, this week, hearing the stories of survivors and family members in public and private sessions.

They told the commissioners about how their family members were killed, about domestic abuse that's "rampant" in the territory, and what needs to be done to stop the violence.

CBC News covered the hearings in depth over the week.

Here's a look at what happened and the stories that came out of the hearings.

Tuesday

Monica Ugjuk lit the qulliq, a traditional Inuit oil lamp, and Inuk singer Susan Aglukark performed a song of healing and hope to begin the proceedings Tuesday, the first full day of testimony.

At least 20 family members and survivors were scheduled to testify in public and private over the course of the proceedings, beginning with Laura MacKenzie, who requested the inquiry come to Rankin Inlet.

MacKenzie spoke about her cousin Betsy Kalaserk, who died by suicide at 29 years old in 2003. Kalaserk had been sexually abused by a family member as a child. MacKenzie said a culture of silence meant Kalaserk never reported her abuser to police. 

Laura MacKenzie believes her cousin's life would have been better if she had the counselling and support she needed from a young age. (CBC)

"The very people that should have protected her from this were the very ones that abused her," MacKenzie said.

She called for more sexual-abuse specialists in Nunavut and for Northerners to have the same family doctor over a period of time, to develop better relationships. 

"I know these aren't easy things for you guys to hear, but know this isn't easy for me to say," she said. "We can no longer turn a blind eye." 

Nikki Komaksiutiksak also testified about her cousin and throat singing partner, Jessica Michaels. Jessica died at the age of 17 after suffering horrific sexual and physical violence.

At the MMIWG hearings in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Nikki Komaksiutiksak testified about her cousin Jessica who died at the age of 17. 0:34

Komaksiutiksak testified that she and Jessica were abused as young girls — subjected to whippings with extension cords, beaten with high-heeled shoes, abused with hangers and stabbed.

She told the commissioners about how they both had to testify in court against her aunt, calling it an "injustice" that they were subjected to tough cross-examination by the defence lawyer.

Komaksiutiksak said she was also disappointed with how the RCMP handled Jessica's case, saying she didn't feel like they cared.

Wednesday

Sophie Nashook testified Wednesday about her sister-in-law Della Ootoova, who according to Nashook, was beaten to death by her husband in 2008. He died before he could be tried in court, she said.  

"Why is it men beat women?" Nashook asked in Inuktitut. "I thought the point of a union was love and caring."

"I pursued the matter with the husband. I forced him to look at me, to face me. I wanted to know why he did what he did out of anger — I was angry," she said.

She also called for more access to mental health services in the North. 

Susan Enuaraq describes the moment she learned of the murder of her niece, Sula Arreak, and Sula's two daughters. 1:52

Thursday

Susan Aglukark ended the hearings by addressing the man she says sexually abused her when she was eight years old.

"You didn't win," she said. "Not now, not ever."

Her testimony was the first time the celebrated Inuk singer revisited the abuse since she testified in court against the man.

To this day, Aglukark said she still feels the effects of the trauma he inflicted on her. It manifests itself in twitching, fidgeting and clenching her jaw for long periods of time without realizing it.

"We need to invest in … professional help for victims. We need more healing centres — every region should have one," she said.

After Aglukark's testimony, Monica Ugjuk prayed in Inuktitut and Aglukark sang a rendition of Amazing Grace in Inuktitut as well.

'You didn’t win. Not now, not ever.' Susan Aglukark named her abuser when she testified at the final day of hearings in Rankin Inlet. (Jared Delorme/APTN )

With files from Randi Beers