Do we need an inquiry to end violence against indigenous women?

Many hope that the new federal government will call a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. But Sarah Hunt, a First Nations scholar, has serious doubts about the effectiveness of government-led inquiries.
(Supplied by Sarah Hunt)

There have been growing calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and many have pinned their hopes on Justin Trudeau's promise to make the inquiry happen.

But not everyone is optimistic a national inquiry will create change. Sarah Hunt is an assistant professor in the First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program at the University of British Columbia. She says we already know what we need to do to prevent violence against indigenous women, and argues government-led inquiries have been ineffective in the past. 

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.

What are your primary concerns about a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women? 

I have two main concerns. The first one is about the amount of time that an inquiry takes. Certainly we do need long-term, systemic change, but we also can't wait two or three or five years for an inquiry to end to begin to take action. So I think one is seeing immediate change. The other one is a question of leadership. We've seen other kinds of inquiries and government-led processes that don't necessarily centre the voices and leadership of indigenous women. Certainly with the Oppal inquiry [the British Columbia inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women led by Wally Oppal], a lot of the indigenous voices who had called for the inquiry were cut out, and we saw, over time, that more and more of the days of the inquiry were taken up by the police instead of by the indigenous people being impacted by their actions. 

If an inquiry isn't the right tool to address the root causes of violence against indigenous women, what is? 

I think that an inquiry is one way to try to seek justice, and that's really what family members are calling for. They want answers, they want to know what happened to their loved ones, they want to know what the police and the justice system did or didn't do to respond to that, but ultimately, we want to end violence. We want to end it in the long term, but we want to start by ending it today. 

We need to think outside the box. There might be, for example, regional representatives who have been doing anti-violence work. There's definitely women like Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who's been looking at the deaths of kids in care and the treatment of kids in provincial care in B.C. - people like that who could head up a really meaningful process, whether it's called an inquiry or something else. I'm not opposed to an inquiry, but I do think we need to consider what the limitations have been with past inquiries and what we can do to do something that's much more meaningful. 

What we usually get at the end of these inquiries is a list of recommendations. Do we need more recommendations? 

That's where I think we can start making change in the short term. There have been studies done, there's research on a local level that's been done. There are organizations at a grassroots level that are led by indigenous communities and families that are already trying to create change with very few resources. 

Are there other examples you could give us of concrete, local solutions that the new government could fund either in addition to - or perhaps even instead of - a national inquiry? 

One we know a lot about in northern B.C. is the need for a bus system or transportation system. That was called for in 2008 by local communities. It still hasn't been implemented....There are a lot of measures that indigenous communities are doing.  Communities, for example, that have developed safe houses without any funding - or creating local response teams just from local community members so if they know that something is happening, there are people locally who know everybody and can respond. 

Click the blue button above to listen to the full interview.


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