National inquiry into MMIWG comes to Inuvik after push from Inuit

As of Tuesday afternoon, the inquiry staff had one confirmed appointment in Inuvik, but expected others to come once word spread.

Statement taking and outreach is taking place from Monday to Wednesday

Representatives of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are in Inuvik this week after a push from community members. From left to right, Looee Okalik, Francine Merasty, Frank Hope and Barbara Sevigny. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is in Inuvik this week in response to pressure from some members of the community.

Staff arrived on Monday and are set up at the Capital Suites Hotel to hear from people affected by the issue through Wednesday.

The inquiry was not originally scheduled to come to Inuvik. Organizers made room in their schedule for the Beaufort-Delta town after a push from Inuit members of the National Family Advisory Circle, an organization that gives feedback to commissioners of the inquiry. They feel Inuit and Inuvialuit voices need to be heard.

The visit was not confirmed until three days before it started.

Lesa Semmler, a representative of the National Family Advisory Circle in Inuvik, says the inquiry needs to hear the specific issues affecting people in the Arctic regions. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"Whenever there were discussions around how this should go, a lot of it was First Nation focused and on reserves," said Lesa Semmler, a member of the advisory circle.

Semmler, who is from Inuvik, said people in her region face specific issues such as losing family members to family violence, spousal violence, sexual assaults and suicides, which is something she wants the inquiry to understand.

That's not the only reason Semmler believes the inquiry needs to make the effort to visit Inuit communities.

"In our culture, we are not the type of people that are going to go out and come to you," she said.

"Come to the northern regions because it is not a national inquiry if you don't have our stories."

Many ways to share stories

As of Tuesday afternoon, the inquiry staff had one confirmed appointment in Inuvik, but expected others to come once word spread.

Barbara Sevigny, health manager with the inquiry, said an important part of the process is to make sure participants have support before and after they share their stories.

"Individuals who share their stories and testimonies are offered after-care, and it's really up to them with how they like their after-care," she said, adding it can range from connecting participants with local service providers to community workshops or traditional healing.

Residents who want to give statements aren't required to do it publicly, or even in-camera. They have the option of providing a private statement with a statement taker.

Frank Hope, one of the 11 statement takers across Canada for the inquiry, said the process is done in a comfortable, safe place.

"Usually we do it in a private room," he said. "Oftentimes they will bring in a family member to support them and health supports in the room with them."

Yellowknife hearing rescheduled for January

The inquiry is scheduled to hold a hearing in Yellowknife Jan. 23 to 25, after postponing the original date of Nov. 13.

There is an opening ceremony planned for the evening before it begins.

Looee Okalik, community liaison officer with the inquiry, says the inquiry's next stop is Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, starting Thursday. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

The inquiry was formed to examine the systemic causes of violence directed against Indigenous women and girls in Canada and find some way to memorialize the missing and murdered victims — which some say could number as high as 4,000.

So far, 29 people are registered to participate in the Yellowknife hearing, but Looee Okalik, the community liaison officer for Inuit and the Northwest Territories, hopes to see that number increase.

Okalik says the next stop for the national inquiry is Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, where staff will be gathering statements Thursday to Sunday.

Those in Inuvik who want to testify after Wednesday can also call the toll free number 1-844-348-4119.