Michèle Audette to help lead MMIW inquiry

Michèle Audette spent years calling for action to address the tragedy of Canada's murdered and missing Aboriginal women. Now she's one of five people heading a national inquiry into the matter.

Former head of Native Women's Association of Canada among 5 commissioners

Michèle Audette has been named a commissioner in the national inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women. (Native Women's Association of Canada)

Michèle Audette spent years calling for action to address the tragedy of Canada's murdered and missing Aboriginal women.

Now, she's one of five people heading a national inquiry into the matter.

The longtime Quebec activist and former president of the Native Women's Association of Canada was one of five commissioners named at a news conference attended by three federal cabinet ministers Wednesday in Gatineau, Que.

Marion Buller, British Columbia's first female First Nations judge, is leading the inquiry. 

Audette, whose mother is Innu and father is French Canadian, grew up in the Innu community of Uashat-Maliotenam, near Sept-Îles on Quebec's north shore, where she now lives with her five children.

She was one of the youngest women ever to be elected as head of the Quebec Native Women's Association. 

She served as deputy minister of Quebec's Ministry for the Status of Women before taking the top job at the Native Women's Association of Canada, where she repeatedly pressed the former Conservative government to call a national inquiry into the plight of Aboriginal women.

"It's a human rights issue. We do it for salmon. We do it for corruption ... How come we don't have the same thing for missing and murdered Aboriginal women?" Audette said in 2014.

Audette also ran unsuccessfully for the federal Liberals in the riding of Terrebonne in the 2015 election. 

It's a human rights issue. We do it for salmon. We do it for corruption ... How come we don't have the same thing for missing and murdered Aboriginal women?- Michèle Audette , then head of the Native Women's Association of Canada, in 2014

In an interview with CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada, in July, Audette spoke candidly about her past struggles with depression.

Five people killed themselves in her home community of Uashat-Maliotenam in 2015, which triggered a coroner's inquest aimed at preventing future suicides.

"I used to believe the stereotype that if we are strong we don't need help, but now I realize that no matter what we do in life, we are perfectly imperfect," she said last month.

Audette declined requests for an interview on Wednesday.

Families hopeful

Laurie Odjick holds a photo of her daughter, Maisy, who disappeared in 2008 at age 16. (Julie Van Dusen/CBC)

Laurie Odjick, an Algonquin woman whose daughter Maisy was last seen in Maniwaki, Que. in 2008, when she was 16, said the inquiry is something she'd long awaited. 

Odjick, who was at the announcement, said the selection of Audette as commissioner makes her more confident the inquiry will lead to positive change.

"Michèle Audette has been with our families for a very long time," she said. 

"I am so very happy that she is one of the commissioners because she's also a family member, and I know she'll do right by us."

'Historic' day

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett answers questions from reporters after officially launching a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. (CBC )

The inquiry will begin Sept. 1 and run until Dec. 31, 2018, at an estimated cost of $53.8 million.

It will examine the factors driving a systemic, high rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and the role of various institutions, including police forces, governments and coroners' offices.

It will also review various federal and provincial laws but will not find criminal liability.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett called the announcement of the inquiry's details a "historic" day, and she praised the victims' family members for sharing their "heart-wrenching" stories to help set the parameters of the inquiry.

In 2014, the RCMP found nearly 1,200 documented cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls between 1980 and 2012 – a number the Mounties said exceeded previous estimates​.

with files from Sarah Leavitt and Radio-Canada