For Waneek Horn-Miller, being part of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is more than just a job — it's a mission.
A Mohawk from Kahnawake, Que., Horn-Miller is a former Olympian, a media personality and a health advocate. Her hiring as director of community engagement was announced at the inquiry's first news conference on Feb. 7.
"I was really, really humbled and honoured to be asked, because this [inquiry] is a historic event," Horn-Miller said.
"Never in our history have we ever just solely focused on the safety of Indigenous women and girls."
As director of community engagement, Horn-Miller will oversee a team of regional community liaisons.
The team will be in charge of connecting the commission with Indigenous organizations, the public, and most importantly, victims' families across the country.
Although the exact locations have yet to be announced, the inquiry's public hearings are expected to begin sometime in the spring.
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"We're supporting the families that have already identified themselves on what to expect from the hearings," Horn-Miller said. "But it's also getting the word out there to people who don't necessarily think that they have anything to contribute."
Horn-Miller said it's possible some families might not think they're able to provide testimony because they think their loved one's case is too old or wasn't in the media.
Violence 'the reality'
Although she said it's not entirely in her job description, Horn-MIller said she also plans to work with the commission's communications staff to let the Canadian public know about the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
"It's the reality in our communities ... there's a lot of women I know who have been the victim of violence, or know someone who has been impacted by violence," she said.
"But I want the public to know that this issue is not just an Indigenous issue, it's a Canadian issue."
The federal government officially launched the $53.8-million independent inquiry last August. Commissioners are expected to submit an interim report in the fall and a final report by the end of 2018.