'Their stories are sacred': Families, advocates come together to call for justice on MMIWG
Gathering held at The Forks to mark anniversary of final report of National Inquiry into MMIWG
A year after handing over their stories to the federal government in hopes it would lead to change, the families and survivors who offered testimony at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are still waiting.
"People came and shared their hearts and their stories and their hurts and their losses," said Tara Petti, who gave testimony when the inquiry was in Thompson, Man.
"And how is that recognized and what are they doing with that?"
Petti was just one of dozens who attended the "Honouring Their Stories" event at The Forks Wednesday evening, organized by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.
The event marked the one-year anniversary of the completion of the report, which includes 231 calls for justice — recommendations to all Canadians that outline how cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people should be handled, or could be prevented.
"Calls for justice are legal imperatives — they are not optional." said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee in a press release for the event.
"The template for a national action plan is in the calls for justice. What we're asking for now is a clear and transparent timeline and process, led by Indigenous people," he said.
Those calls were echoed by people at the gathering, who came to lay flowers, offer tobacco and listen to singing and drumming.
"It's important [to have a national plan], because these kinds of things haven't stopped and they still continue to this day," said Petti, whose niece was murdered in Regina, Sask., earlier this year.
Feds say plan coming
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told CBC the federal government and its partners are working as quickly as they can to develop a co-ordinated strategy for the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Bennett said the government is still consulting with Indigenous women's groups, Indigenous leadership and provincial and territorial governments on the co-development of a national plan to address the inquiry's recommendations, even though the pandemic has prevented in-person meetings.
Delores Daniels, Petti's sister, said regardless of the pandemic, the federal government has had more than enough time to come up with a plan.
"I've been waiting to find out what the action is going to be and if they're going to consider the recommendations and what the plan is going to be," Daniels said.
"I haven't heard anything yet, and it's been a year."
'Their voices haven't been forgotten'
Daniels, who also provided testimony at the inquiry, said she was at the event to support families and honour her daughter, Serena McKay, who was killed in 2017.
"Because she lost her voice, and we want to support other families that are going through the same thing and we also want to feel that support from those that are here," said Daniels.
Organizer Hilda Anderson-Pyrz said despite waiting a year for some kind of outcome, the event was to remind those who shared stories that they are not forgotten about.
"We've seen little to no action from various levels of government and it's to remind families and survivors that there's a lot of support out there for them and that their stories are sacred and their voices haven't been forgotten," she said.
The sisters say the support they receive through organizations here in Manitoba, like MKO, and events like the ones held at The Forks, have been an important part of healing.
That's why the women say a national plan is needed — to ensure all Indigenous people and their families have access to supports and are not reliant on various organizations in a patchwork of programs.
"It would be really nice to see organizations that have caring people, people who can lend an ear, to teach tools, like things that have happened with us in our own healing," said Petti.
Petti said she's grateful for the support she's received here, but says it's not the same for her family members in Saskatchewan.
"We don't see those same kinds of supports [there]," she said.
With files from Olivia Stefanovich, Sam Samson