Nfld. & Labrador

More than 100 indigenous women in N.L. murdered or missing, meeting told

A shocking number was revealed at meeting in St. John's Wednesday.

Pre-Inquiry meeting held at the St. John's Native Friendship Centre

Inuit people met in St. John's Wednesday to talk about how the federal Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

A shocking number was revealed at meeting in St. John's Wednesday: more than 100 indigenous women and girls are estimated to have been murdered or gone missing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"It is a big issue, and that's the point," said Angus Andersen, who hosted the gathering of about a dozen people at the St. John's Native Friendship Centre.

"A lot of people seem to brush the idea of some Inuk, when they are missing or murdered, it just tends to be brushed under the carpet and I'm hoping this inquiry will shine a light on that," said Andersen, who organized the meeting on behalf of two national Inuit organizations, Tungasuvvingat Inuit and  Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

The meeting was held so that Inuit people in St. John's could present their ideas about how the upcoming federal Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry should be organized.

Long-running, complicated problems

Participants said the problems that have resulted in murdered and missing indigenous girls and women are long-running and complicated.

Angus Andersen is originally from Nain but he lives in St. John's. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

They talked about the toxic effects of centuries of racism, sexism and colonialism. They also talked about the daily challenges that Inuit people in Labrador face, such as expensive housing, food and substance abuse.

One participant described alcohol as a "weapon" that's damaged traditional cultures.

Andersen's grandmother is one of the 100 women who were killed or went missing. She was murdered more than three decades ago. Andersen said her death was not dealt with properly.

"It was not. No. Even though they solved that mystery," he said. 

"Still it was an issue that should not have happened like too many families in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunatsiavut, NunatuKavut, there are too many cases that have been brushed under the rug by justice, by social services, and there are a few cases that people still don't know about," he said.

'Take our suggestions seriously'

Andersen wants the inquiry to address the concerns of Indigenous people.

"I hope that than any government that takes part does take our suggestions seriously and follow up what we want because it is important to us to have our ideas heard and used because too many times the justice department has investigated and then just said 'case closed'," he said.

Too many cases have been brushed under the rug.- Angus Andersen

From December to February, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu toured the country to meet with the families of murdered or missing aboriginal women and girls, seeking their input on what a national inquiry should look like and what it should attempt to accomplish.

Bennett said in February that they've heard from 1,300 people, many of whom believe police have ignored their concerns about missing or murdered loved ones.

The Liberal government hopes to have the inquiry up and running by the summer but it must first decide what the inquiry's mandate should be.

Bennett said it requires a balancing act to ensure the inquiry's focus isn't too narrow or too broad.

A 2014 report by the RCMP concluded 1,017 aboriginal women had been murdered between 1980 and 2012, and that another 164 were considered missing.

Indigenous women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population but the report found they account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper resolutely refused to launch a national inquiry into the issue, arguing that indigenous women need action, not more studies.

However, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised during last fall's election campaign to immediately launch an inquiry as part of his bid to establish a new "nation to nation" relationship with indigenous peoples.

About the Author

Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.