'It needs a restart': Manitoba chief calls on MMIW inquiry head to resign

A Manitoba chief says the chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls should resign.

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples stands behind inquiry despite 'ongoing challenges' facing commission

Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, says she wants Chief Commissioner Marion Buller step down so the MMIW inquiry can have a fresh start. (CBC)

A Manitoba chief is calling for the chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to resign.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson told CBC she thinks Marion Buller needs to step down to give the probe a new beginning.

"I think she needs to go," North Wilson said. "It needs a restart."

North Wilson said she means no disrespect to the chief commissioner, but she would rather see a grassroots activist replace her.

"I'm not trying to be controversial, but I think this is just too serious of an issue to be struggling this way," she said.

Inquiry executive director Michele Moreau resigned on Friday — the fourth upper-level staffer to resign in the past month.

'What is going on?'

Sandra DeLaronde of Winnipeg's Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre said the resignations point to a larger problem in the inquiry.

"Something is definitely wrong in the inquiry itself to have so many staff, so many qualified staff, so many people with the heart to do the work, leave," she said.

"It's kind of like, 'What is going on?'"

DeLaronde, who is a co-chair in a coalition representing families involved in the inquiry, echoed North Wilson's call for a restart. Without grassroots commissioners and a structure reflecting Indigenous values, she doesn't think the inquiry will be successful.

"Not under the current structure," she said.

"But to be very clear, the Indigenous women and girls of Canada need an inquiry. This is the only opportunity we are going to have. So within the timeframe allocated, the government of Canada can restart the inquiry and must restart the inquiry if it's to bring any closure, or answers."

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples 'optimistic'

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents Indigenous and Métis people living off-reserve, took a more positive view in a press release on Tuesday.

The congress acknowledged the "ongoing challenges" facing the inquiry but said it "remains optimistic."

"Although the inquiry has faced some administrative setbacks, CAP still believes it will shed much-needed light on the issue," congress Chief Robert Bertrand said in a written statement.

Bertrand and other Indigenous leaders met with commissioners on June 15. In the news release, Bertrand called the meeting "open, informative and overall positive," and said commissioners pledged to address leaders' concerns.

"The MMIWG Inquiry is an important process that many families are relying on," Bertrand said in the release. "We all need to rally behind it to ensure families have their voices heard."

National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Chief Commissioner Marion Buller should step aside, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson says. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press )

The inquiry has been plagued by delays and criticism from family members with missing or murdered loved ones who North Wilson said came out to pre-inquiry consultations that created much confusion.

Commissioners with the inquiry held the probe's first public hearings in Whitehorse from May 30 to June 2, and announced plans to delay testimony from other family members until an undetermined date in the fall.

North Wilson said many families aren't happy with how the inquiry has been handled so far and the recent resignations are evidence of other issues.

She said families want the inquiry to show that missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are loved and protected — something that's not happening right now.

"People go on the streets, take us off the streets and do whatever they want with us and discard us," she said.​

CBC News has asked the inquiry for a response.

with files from Chris Read