MMIWG report calls on Canadians to act: Here's how to make an impact

Among the calls for justice in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are a handful that urge everyone to become allies, to combat racism and to break down barriers.

Become part of the community, says advocate: 'We need to see your hand in order for us to shake it'

A red ribbon attached to an eagle feather is held up during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Que., on June 3. The report makes 231 recommendations, including some for individuals. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Among the calls for justice in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are a handful that urge everyone to become allies, to combat racism and to break down barriers.

Included in the report, which was released earlier this week, are these recommendations:

  • Develop knowledge and read the final report. Listen to the truths shared, and acknowledge the burden of these human and Indigenous rights violations, and how they impact Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] people today.
  • Using what you have learned and some of the resources suggested, become a strong ally. Being a strong ally involves more than just tolerance; it means actively working to break down barriers and to support others in every relationship and encounter in which you participate.
  • Confront and speak out against racism, sexism, ignorance, homophobia and transphobia, and teach or encourage others to do the same, wherever it occurs: in your home, in your workplace, or in social settings.

But how? How do you apply those grand statements in a practical way in your daily life?

In all, the report, which concluded that murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls were victims of a wider genocide, lists 231 steps that need to be taken by governments and Canadians in order to make substantive changes.

CBC News asked a number of Indigenous leaders to weigh in on how every person can contribute.

Here are their responses:

Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie

A two-spirit Anishinaabe community advocate from Sagkeeng First Nation. Lavoie uses the non-gender-specific pronoun "they."

Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie says everyone is threatened by the unknown. They urge people to reach out and become familiar with the Indigenous community. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"In the daily life, I think one of the major forms of combating racism is having conversations with people within the community and building those relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

Be part of the community

"I think really, there's a hesitation to reach out sometimes, because of this uncertainty of, like, 'what's going to happen?' But we have to have a more healthy engagement with people within the broader community.

"There's a lot of community events that come up that happen … and I think by showing up and taking the time out of your own personal daily lives to focus on community, and going directly to the community and listening and hearing what their struggles are, is mainly Step 1.

"There's many forms of getting out to the community and listening to people — then you understand the extent of the issue and the ways that it's very multifaceted and how people are impacted.

"We are all threatened by the unknown," so become familiar with the Indigenous community, Lavoie says.

"You can learn a lot from Indigenous Peoples by understanding the life that we lived and the struggles that we have gone through in order to get where we are, and the resilience that we hold and the strength that we hold, and how we stand up for each other and we care for each other.

"We try to help each other out but we're not getting that same response from a lot of Canadians, and I think that's what this call to action is saying — like 'hey, we need to see your hand in order for us to shake it.'"

Read, listen, learn

"I think the relationship that we have as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is that there's a lot of missed opportunity for better relationships. I am a firm believer that education brings about that sense of empathy.

"Take time in your own life to do the research and put in that work. If you're saying, 'Hey, I don't really understand this whole issue,' look into it. Reading literature and books from Indigenous authors is a good start.

"Whenever people try to address or combat racism, there's still always this underlying layer of guilt and there's a layer of defensiveness. I think in order to get past that, you really have to establish a relationship with people and to start learning and listening more. A lot of people assume that when we try to alleviate our oppression that it's an automatic attack on white people, or an automatic attack on people that are privileged.

"But really, the basis of equity is around relationship building, it's around education, it's around engaging each other in a positive way and making sure that there is an equality of outcome rather than just an equality of opportunity."

Take responsibility

"Start saying that you have the responsibility to help and that we all have a responsibility to help each other. There is an added responsibility on Canadians because of the genocide that Indigenous peoples have received, not only just historically but presently.

"Our relationship has been severed, and so in order for us to combat that we really need to establish a relationship in a healthy and productive way.

"It can't be on the hands of Indigenous Peoples to do all that work. We Indigenous people shouldn't be the only ones demanding action. The responsibility is on your part as well."

That's a message Lavoie says Indigenous people have been repeating for years, but there's now some progress. Governments are starting to listen and non-Indigenous people are standing alongside the Indigenous community in their fight, Lavoie says.

Become an 'upstander'

It can no longer be acceptable for someone to turn a blind eye when they see or hear something racist, says Lavoie.

"We're dealing with the bystander syndrome and, you know, we need people that are upstanders — people that are standing up and intervening.

"Allyship means you're an intervener of injustice, and so stepping in and putting yourself forward and stopping that from happening and saying, 'hey that's not right, that's not what we need to be doing as a community,' and moving from passive supporters to active supporters. We need people that are actually out there physically helping and supporting.

"That's the only way for us to really change. That's the only way for us to have system change, is when everyone's involved."

Jackie Hogue

A nonprofit consultant who facilitates training sessions on anti-oppression and dismantling racism. For many years she also taught a course on confronting racism in the inner city at the University of Winnipeg.

If you want to make change, learn about our collective history and the history of Indigenous people on this territory we call home, says Jackie Hogue. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

"Racism exists through ourselves and our society, so I think if we're going to dismantle it and change it, we have to kind of work at multiple levels at the same time," said Hogue.

Look inside

"Individually, I think there's lots of things we can do — first of all, being open to [understanding] how racism works. I think a lot of people think that racism is just those really overt intentional acts that you can pinpoint and name as a hate crime, but what this report and other reports … have told us is that racism exists in all kinds of ways, including in our own conscious."

Hogue says it's important to be open to the fact that racism is very present in Canada and to reflect on how it shows up in you.

Pay more attention to when your subconscious might be generating racist ideas or bias, "because it happens to all of us, including myself."

"Train yourself to notice or see when they happen" so that you can learn to stop it, she said.

Listen better, channel your courage

"It also involves deeper listening, especially to perspectives and experiences that are not our own. We just have to be better listeners and then believers of those experiences in order to help support and create change."

There are, of course, outward challenges too, especially when you witness racism — but Hogue says jumping into the fray might not always be the best idea. 

Think first about the best way to approach the situation, she says — challenging the harm we see can also be done through advocacy, lobbying and offering training programs.

"It does take courage to do that [step up and raise your voice]. If you don't have the courage or the words in that exact moment it doesn't mean your opportunities are over," Hogue said.

"There can be other opportunities, and I think that connects to what we can do in our organizations, or our groups or our workplaces. There's opportunities for training and awareness in our workplaces, but also in the places that we might volunteer or connect with in other ways.

"It's also about listening to what all of these reports have been telling us, not only this report but the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] and the [Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples] and the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry. What have they been telling us that we need to do, and can you apply those teachings, those directives, into your workplace?"

Learn about history

If you want to make change, learn about our collective history and the history of Indigenous people on this territory we call home, Hogue says.

Then we can better understand how racism and colonization are lived out today and what we can do to change those things, she says.

"You can also lobby for systemic change, whether it's in your organization or in our own government. The basic example is lobbying for the implementation of this [MMIWG inquiry] report as well as other reports before it, like the TRC, and lobbying the government to pass Bill C-262 that is currently being debated in the Senate."

Bill C-262 is an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"These are really tangible things that you can speak out to that would create changes in our system."

Hogue believes there is a growing consciousness about the historical and ongoing struggles of Indigenous people, which more people are trying to address.

"I think that Maclean's article [from 2015, about Winnipeg being Canada's most racist city] helped the conversation, the TRC process helped the conversation, but it's deeply entrenched stuff — colonization and systemic racism are deeply entrenched.

"I think we have a long way to go, but racism is socially constructed so we completely have the capacity to deconstruct it. So if we talk about it, become more aware of how it operates and how it's held within us, and how we then hold it in our groups and institutions and government, we can break it down and see even better change."

Niigaan Sinclair

Sinclair, from St. Peter's/Little Peguis First Nation, is Anishinaabe and is an associate professor of Native studies at the University of Manitoba. He is a writer and a regular commentator on Indigenous issues for multiple media outlets, including his regular Winnipeg Free Press column.

The best way to combat the tragedies of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is to 'refuse to let the issue be silent,' says Niigaan Sinclair. (CBC)

Sinclair says everyone needs to be cognizant of the impact colonialism had, and continues to have, on Indigenous people, and how it has led to a "righteous ignorance" among so much of the population.

"Getting to understand your role within that impact is the most critical thing a Manitoban can do — understanding that this issue is your issue and understanding how you can also be the solution within your place of work, or your home or when you vote. You have a role to play in this becoming a problem, but we also have a role in creating a solution."

But that awareness is only a step. "You have to take action to make sure we don't have any more of our sisters or aunties that go missing," Sinclair said.

"To encapsulate that is to take it up in every part of your life, from the taxes that you pay to the place that you work, to the news stories that you spend time reading. All of those things are a part of understanding how you take up a solution."

'Refuse to let the issue be silent'

The best way to combat the tragedies of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is to "refuse to let the issue be silent," Sinclair says.

"If you're on social media, for example, repost those searches [for anyone missing] and participate in those searches, whether that be going and helping people, or providing income and assistance for those organizations that are helping young women to get off the streets and those families to get out of poverty and … dangerous circumstances that the state and the country has put them into.

"Go and volunteer for organizations that are doing front-line work to be able to assist people, or spend your time within your workplace assisting in whatever means necessary to ensure that there is safety for young Indigenous women and girls in our communities. If you are in a workplace … that interacts with Indigenous women and girls, make sure that you have a competent awareness plan within your employee workforce. 

"I've heard many … times of young women who are asking for help, whether that be phoning emergency services or asking police or talking in the social welfare agencies or going to a store and being turned away.

"The most important thing in Manitoba is to become competent on the relationship that we have between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and a large part of that is the ignorance surrounding Indigenous women and girls."

Listen twice as much

"We have a problem in this country, and in Manitoba, of seeing Indigenous Peoples as human beings and seeing them as people who have been been thrust into circumstances of not their own choosing — in poverty, in dangerous situations and situations involving needing help.

"And we turn … away from them by saying things like 'oh, why don't you work harder' or 'why don't you just go get a job' or 'why don't you just stop whining and complaining all the time.'

"That's the kind of ignorance that lives within racism. It's the kind of righteous ignorance that has hammered Indigenous Peoples into places and then maintains them by those kinds of statements," Sinclair said. 

"Indigenous Peoples are in situations not often of their own choosing," he said.

"The Indian Act puts us into those situations, societal attitudes puts us in those situations, the ongoing views that Indigenous Peoples aren't experiencing oppression or now, genocide — and this is an ongoing thing — those kinds of attitudes are what keeps us in that oppression.

"Understanding that we all have a role to play within this violence, and also understanding that we have a role to play in its solution, begins by listening twice as much before you speak, reading and then acting on what you've read and heard."


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.