Feds promise over $180M for programs to support national MMIWG action plan
Funds earmarked for initiatives including permanent missing, murdered Indigenous women and girls secretariat
The federal government is pledging more than $180 million for new programs that will help address some of the items from its action plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said on Thursday.
"We know that ending this national tragedy will take time. But we are all committed to embarking on this journey together," Bennett said at a news conference at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre's Gathering Place for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.
Ottawa presented its response to the national inquiry at the beginning of June — two years after the release of the landmark report that presented 231 calls for justice.
Bennett's announcement — coming just days before what is expected to be the start of the federal election campaign period — was made alongside nearly a dozen other people, including several First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders and family members of missing or murdered Indigenous women.
Among them was Kim McPherson, a member of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba who lost an aunt and a sister to violence.
McPherson said she hopes the new funding will support programs that will in turn help prevent more tragedies and heal First Nations communities.
"Our truths need to be the basis for decision making and measuring progress. As a family member, I want to see real and tangible actions and outcomes to stop the genocide," she said.
"There is no excuse any longer."
Thursday's announcement was also made alongside the National Family and Survivors Circle, one of many groups that worked with the federal and provincial governments to develop the action plan released this year.
Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, co-chair of that organization, said there has been renewed conversation about reconciliation following discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada — but that's not enough on its own.
"It cannot just be a conversation. It must be action-oriented with long-term, sustainable commitments," she said.
"We're all part of the solution in ending this genocide."
'Just the beginning'
Bennett said her government will make $108.8 million available for a new program to support creating safe cultural spaces in Indigenous communities.
That includes the construction of things like longhouses, powwow grounds, heritage parks and cultural centres across the country — which Indigenous partners have long advocated for, Bennett said.
The president of the national advocacy organization Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada said she was encouraged that commitment included money for Inuit women and their families in and outside of Inuit Nunangat, or the Inuit homeland.
Those spaces "will create conditions of safety and security and well-being for Inuit women, girls and gender-diverse people, regardless [of] where they live," Rebecca Kudloo said via video conference at Thursday's announcement..
Melanie Omeniho, president of Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak (women of the Métis Nation), said she was also specifically pleased about the announcement of funding for cultural spaces.
But Omeniho said she hopes that support is "just the beginning."
"There is going to be a lot needed to ensure that we continue to support families and survivors in the future," she said via video conference.
Healing, wellness services
The government also announced $12.5 million for a new program that will support organizations that offer much-needed, culturally appropriate healing and mental wellness services for survivors and families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people, Bennett said.
"We know that Indigenous organizations are best-suited to delivering services and support to Indigenous peoples in a culturally safe and respectful way," she said.
Bennett also announced the federal government will put forward $36.3 million over five years, and another $8.6 million ongoing, to better support organizations run by and serving Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people at the grassroots level.
Another $24.5 million will go toward funding Indigenous data projects, establishing an Indigenous data advisory group and creating a permanent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls secretariat to support the government's approach to addressing the issue, Bennett said.
For Sylvia Maracle, who was the chair of the national MMIWG inquiry's 2SLGBTQQIA working subgroup, the explicit inclusion of two-spirit and other gender-diverse people in Thursday's announcement went a long way to demonstrate how much progress has been made.
"We have been unseen and unheard and feared and hated for a long time," said Maracle, who recently retired as the executive director of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres.
"Sometimes it's a single drop of water that changes the landscape. It's a powerful force. Sometimes those are tears and people listen.
"And today the government of Canada has shown that it's listened and I'm absolutely happy, fulfilled [and] excited to move forward."