Sagkeeng families air mixed feelings about MMIWG inquiry after community visit

Officials with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls may have more work to do convincing families in Sagkeeng First Nation it's worth participating in the process.

Tina Fontaine's great aunt says she still remains hopeful about the inquiry

A team of health workers, lawyers and community relations officials arrived in Winnipeg and Sagkeeng First Nation this week to hear more from families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls ahead of hearings this fall.

Officials with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls may have more work to do convincing families of Sagkeeng First Nation it's worth participating in the process.

On Tuesday, at the request of leadership, the inquiry held a community visit to meet with families ahead of the fall hearings.

The First Nation is home to at least 15 women and girls who have been murdered or are missing, and has the greatest number of unsolved cases in Canada, according to a CBC analysis

Gloria Guimond attended the meeting to honour her late mother who was found dead in a Winnipeg stairwell in 1975 and her-sister-in law who went missing in the mid-'80s. However,  she admits she's not optimistic about the inquiry. 

"I don't think nothing will come out of it," she said. "Just something that will be written in the history book."

Gloria Guimond said she questions what the inquiry will achieve, and doesn't plan on participating.

The morning opened with a traditional ceremony where family members were presented with dream catchers adorned with the photos of the loved ones they've lost.

Following a sharing circle, lawyers, health workers and community relations staff with the inquiry were available for one-on-one meetings.

Christa Big Canoe, with the inquiry's legal counsel, said the goal of community visits is to build relationships with families and begin collecting information ahead of the fall hearings.

In the wake of the inquiry's delays, a series of resignations and criticism over a lack of communication, multiple families at Wednesday's visit expressed frustration and said they question what the inquiry will achieve.

Tina Fontaine's great aunt remains hopeful

Thelma Favel participated for her great niece Tina Fontaine. The 15-year-old's body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg in 2014 — a case that shocked the nation and strengthened calls for the inquiry.

Favel said it was difficult to relive Tina's murder, but she was pleased with the community visit.

"It's sad it had to be her, to get this thing going for her to die," Favel said. "But she is helping a lot of people, I see that now. I never seen that before."

Dream catchers made by a local artist and adorned with the photos of Sagkeeng First Nation's missing and murdered Indigenous women were given to families at the community visit. (CBC News)

Still, she said, there was confusion about whether commissioners were going to be at the pre-inquiry visit, and she remains unsure of what to expect of the outcome.

"They're working towards something that will hopefully better all kids lives. Not just aboriginals, it's everybody's lives I hope it benefits."

Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson said despite the scrutiny the inquiry has drawn he hopes families give the process a chance.

"It's better than nothing," Henderson said. "They are here today with my community members and listening, that is something we wouldn't have got if we didn't engage."

Guimond said she doesn't think she will participate, but she supports her husband and other families who plan to.

"Somebody should tell the story of how all of these women have been murdered," Guimond said.

A team of health workers, lawyers and community relations officials are in Winnipeg and Sagkeeng First Nation this week to hear more from families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls ahead of hearings this fall. 2:17

About the Author

Jill Coubrough

Reporter, CBC News

Jill Coubrough is a video journalist with CBC News based in Winnipeg. Before joining CBC Manitoba, she worked as a reporter for CBC News in Halifax and an associate producer for CBC's documentary series Land and Sea. She holds a degree in political studies from the University of Manitoba and a degree in journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax. Email: jillian.coubrough@cbc.ca.