British Columbia

'We need answers': B.C. Indigenous women respond to MMIWG inquiry final report

In the wake of the release of the final report on the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Indigenous women from British Columbia wonder what will come of it.

'We need to see all levels of government working to implement these actions'

Sheryl Rivers, left, and Brenda Wilson, right, agree that in the wake of the final report into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, all levels of government need to step up to put the report's recommendations into action. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Brenda Wilson is one of thousands of Indigenous family members mourning a sister, aunt, wife, mother or daughter who are reacting across the country to the final report from the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. 

Wilson, whose sister Ramona's body was found in 1995 near Smithers, British Columbia, joined Sheryl Rivers, also known by her Indigenous name, Siamtnaat, on CBC's The Early Edition as the findings of the report were being presented to the federal government in Gatineau, Quebec Monday.

The report comes after more than three years and testimony from more than 2,000 Canadians. It makes 231 recommendations to the government, police and public to address endemic levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.

"You know, not a lot has changed since 2006," said Wilson, who was referring to a symposium on the Highway of Tears held that year in Prince George, where she said 91 organizations "brought forth their truth."

"How many times are we going to have to do this over and over before there is an action plan?"

Wilson, who is Gitxsan, questioned what real impact the reports recommendations will have.

"How are they going to make a difference in finding answers for our loved ones that are missing? Our loved ones that have been murdered and have not been solved?" said Wilson.

Brenda Wilson wears a red dress pin in memory of the thousands of Indigenous women and girls missing or murdered in Canada. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Actions speak louder than words

Rivers, a member of the Squamish Nation, said she has a lot of scepticism about the report's findings, which she said are "of a very general nature" about Indigenous people in this country not getting the basic services they need, rather than being specific to the issue of missing and murdered women and girls.

"Once I start seeing the implementation being put into place then maybe I'll have better respect and regard for for what's going to happen," said Rivers.

Both women agree that actions will speak louder than words.

"We need to see all levels of government working to implement these actions," said Rivers, "It's going to take a lot of people working together in order to make this happen."

Wilson said she would like to have seen more collaboration during the inquiry with frontline workers and service providers who work closely with families looking for answers about their missing loved ones.

"I just hope down the road we have more collaboration happening so there is more respect within the whole action plan," said Wilson.

A woman holds a sign during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que. on June 3, 2019. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Rivers agreed with Wilson that collaboration is essential to move forward, including the police, families, communities, the Canadian public and government.

'Unable to get out of bed'

Lorelei Williams, who testified at the inquiry, also reacted to the inquiry's findings at an event in downtown Vancouver Monday morning. Her cousin Tanya Holyk's DNA was found on the farm of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton. Her aunt, Belinda Williams, went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside more than 40 years ago.

She said she was presented with the opportunity to go to Gatineau for the report presentation but thought it was important to stay in B.C.

Williams wept as she recounted how hard it was for her to testify. She said she was barely able to get out of bed and stop crying on the day she spoke to the inquiry.

"I feel for all the families today. The ones who testified. The ones who didn't get to testify because it was too hard," said Williams.

"We are dealing with a collective trauma here created by the Canadian government, police and priests ... this has got to stop."

Lorelei Williams reacts to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In a statement, Premier John Horgan says the B.C. government is committed to learning from the stories, taking action and enacting change.

"Community-based engagement to collaborate on taking concrete steps together will soon begin and will continue through the summer and early fall," Horgan says in the statement.

According to the province's submission to the inquiry in December, more than 100 Indigenous women and girls had been murdered or went missing in B.C.

"We have many other young ladies that are going missing, " said Wilson. "We need answers and we need them today."

Read the report

The Early Edition, Angela Sterritt, The Canadian Press.