MMIW inquiry met with mixed emotions by Indigenous Calgarians

Today brought mixed emotions for Alberta families of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

$54-million inquiry launched Wednesday

Michelle Robinson is the committee co-chair of Sisters in Spirit in Calary (CBC)

Wednesday brought mixed emotions for Alberta families of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The federal government launched its long-awaited inquiry, with five commissioners and a $54-million budget, and local Indigenous leaders are hopeful the inquiry will be transparent.

Michelle Robinson is with Calgary's Sisters in Spirit committee, which works with families of the missing and murdered.

"Whenever the government investigates the government, there's a concern that there's not enough transparency," she said.

"The hopeful part is that to date, this new government has not been in denial like the previous governments have been, so I think that gives us a lot of hope that ... maybe there will be forward movement."

Robinson said there's likely going to be skepticism from the community. What's important, she added, is that the inquiry yields actual results.  

"It's not like there hasn't been previous commissions or inquiries already done, with calls to action or recommendations on how to proceed that have not been implemented," said Robinson. "So, there always will be skepticism, but we'll see. They [the government] are doing what they said they would do."

The five commissioners are being given the power to force individuals to testify if necessary — including police. But the inquiry can't do anything to jeopardize on-going investigations or court cases.

Josie Nepinak, who chairs the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women committee in Calgary, said she's "cautiously optimistic" about the inquiry. 

"I felt a deep sense of loss this morning ... listening to the ministers speak and feeling the grief and the tremendous loss of mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunties across the country," Nepinak said.

"On the other hand, I'm also feeling an immense sigh of relief because I believe that finally, there is a door open. Finally, there is someone listening to the push for a national inquiry from indigenous women's voices."

Josie Nepinak (to the right of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi) says she feels optimistic about the inquiry. (Submitted by Josie Nepinak)

Almost 40 years ago, Nepinak's aunt was murdered, and just four years ago her cousin went missing. She said police believe her cousin was murdered as well.

Muriel Stanley Venne is the president and founder of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women in Edmonton. She said she wants police held to account throughout the inquiry.

"A thorough review of police records and listening to the families and their concerns would be very important," she said. 

Robinson wants the inquiry to prompt the reopening of past cases.

"There's always hope that the recommendations, or whatever the outcome ... will [be] that we will have to actually open up some cold cases or so-called closed cases," she said.

The inquiry will last until the end of 2018, when the commissioners make their recommendations.