Wednesday May 17, 2017

MMIW inquiry failing families, says Native Women's Association

Ceejai Julian, who lost two sisters, wipes her eye during the announcement of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Ceejai Julian, who lost two sisters, wipes her eye during the announcement of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Listen 19:13

Since the national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women officially launched last September, criticisms have been mounting.

Many family members of missing and  and murdered Indigenous women have lost faith in the inquiry.

Bridget Tolley says there's no communication, and families are asking for help.

"I want to be involved, you know, my mother needs to be involved too; don't leave us out," she says.

Bridget's mother, Gladys Tolley, was killed in 2001. Bridget has been fighting for more than a decade to have the case reopened and subject to an independent investigation.

'We need to ensure some sort of accountability in order for this ever to succeed.'  - Francyne Joe, interim president, Native Women's Association of Canada

A new open letter to the inquiry's chief commissioner, signed by more than 30 advocates, Indigenous leaders, and family members, says the process is in serious trouble.

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Many family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women have lost faith in the national inquiry and want to be involved. (CBC)

And this week, the Native Women's Association of Canada issued a report card on the inquiry — giving it failing grades.

The association's interim president Francyne Joe agrees there is lack of communication in the inquiry process and points out a lack of strategic planning when measuring goals.

"We need to ensure some sort of accountability in order for this ever to succeed," Joe tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Families want to be involved. In order for them to be involved, we need to have a clear communication plan from the inquiry … and come up with some clear, concrete plans so that we can protect our women."

Joe says that what is needed is an assurance of a "family-first process."

"We need to ensure that families are most respected, most honoured. They have stories they want to share."

'We have to move with caution and ensure that we have a trauma-informed process in place so that we are not doing further harm.' -Waneek Horn-Miller

Waneek Horn-Miller, director of community relations for the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, admits the communication has not been good in the past.

She tells Tremonti a new director of communication and her team are working to address this issue so families can get needed information to participate.

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From left, commissioners Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"We need to hear from the families. the survivors. We need to hear from the LGBTQ2S community. We need to hear from women who were trafficked. We need to hear from women who are incarcerated," Horn-Miller says.

She acknowledges the anxiety and the wait is hard but balancing the needs to move forward is important.

"We have to move with caution and ensure that we have a trauma-informed process in place so that we are not doing further harm."

The inquiry is due on Nov. 1, a concern Joe says may result in a report that is not as fully-engaging as expected given the deadline is in 24 weeks. 

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Judge Marion Buller (right), chief commissioner of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, says she guarantees everyone a full hearing. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

"But I'm still hopeful," she tells Tremonti. 

What is needed right now is repairing the emotional trauma families have endured, Joe declares.

"It's been an emotional rollercoaster for so many of these families and I don't think we're providing the correct supports at this moment for either the families — or even the staff."

An extension to the inquiry has not been decided but Horn-Miller says her team is committed to ensuring the inquiry is released in a timely matter with a good communication strategy.

"My team — the community relations team — is going to be out all summer engaging with families to help prepare them," Horn-Miller tells Tremonti.

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith and Shannon Higgins.