Some family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are vowing to blockade meetings of the national inquiry to protest what they call a disastrous start.
"We are prepared to take blockades against this inquiry, if it goes through our communities we will be there, it doesn't matter where," John Fox told reporters Tuesday.
Fox said many families are "tired of the commissioners," the people who are responsible for collecting testimony from families, and they are frustrated with the lack of familial support. Fox said calls to the 1-800 number are not returned and emails go unanswered by the bureaucrats staffing the inquiry's office. He wants to ensure he can get on the list of speakers when the inquiry finally rolls through his town.
"What are we supposed to do? What other things can I do to get my name on there?" he asked.
Fox, the father of Cheyenne Marie Fox, a 20-year-old woman who died in Toronto in 2013, said the inquiry has unfairly placed the blame on families for cancelling scheduled meetings this summer rather than admit they were simply not prepared.
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The inquiry has said it would go ahead with the first meeting in Whitehorse at the end of the month, but suspend others until the fall because many witnesses told them that they would be out on the land hunting, trapping and harvesting and would not have time to meet with commissioners. Fox said Tuesday that was nonsense.
"They took that little bit of information, somebody said it in passing, but now they paint all our families with that one big brush, but that's not fair," he said. "The harvesting and all of that other stuff, that's always going to happen ... we would be there."
'They can't even get the race horse out of the gate.' - John Fox
Fox said Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was able to hold pre-inquiry meetings throughout the country in a matter of months, but, nearly a year after the launch of the national inquiry, things remain largely at a standstill.
"Why can she pull off the pre-inquiry, and get all the statements in that short period of time? And this inquiry now ... they don't have an idea of what they're going to do? All the money and expertise in front of them and they can't even get the race horse out of the gate."
(As of May 23, the inquiry has already spent roughly 10 per cent of its $53-million budget.)
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also voiced his frustrations Tuesday. Bellegarde said he has invited the five MMIWG commissioners to meet with family members on three different occasions but was rejected.
"Clear communication and outreach to family members are essential to rebuild trust and ensure the national inquiry is a success," Bellegarde said, adding the process must take a "families first" approach, based on respect for survivors and their loved ones.
Jocelyn Iahtail, a woman from Attawapiskat, Ont. who has long fought for a national inquiry after losing her daughter, said many have simply given up hope with the process so far because it has not respected Indigenous spirituality and language.
She said while Marion Buller, the chief commissioner, admitted last week some mistakes had been made, more needs to be done to regain the trust of many family members. Elders are trying to speak in their Indigenous languages but are simply not understood by record keepers, she said, and there is little respect paid to sacred instruments like the drum, fire ceremonies and tobacco.
"We cannot have our sacred stories yet again shelved like every other report has been shelved. We've had many family members state that it is running very much like the Indian residential school process when they were meeting with adjudicators. It is like a court process. We've been very consistent since the beginning that it has to be Indigenous knowledge-based."
Iahtail said the commission has also been tight-fisted with money to help families travel to inquiry meetings, and has been reluctant to provide legal services to those in need.
Buller said Friday she understands frustration from families, but chalked up problems to poor communications.
"I don't think it's a matter of staff issues. It's our fault for not communicating the tremendous work we have already accomplished."
The commission has cycled through three directors of communications in 10 months, and has been plagued by complaints from family members about compressed timelines. The first interim report from the inquiry is due by November 2017.