'Time's up': Powerful words from MMIWG commissioner close out Iqaluit hearing

"There is no longer any reason to demand that Indigenous people justify to the state their legitimacy," said Qajaq Robinson, who is from Nunavut. "Time's up."

Qajaq Robinson, who is from Nunavut, challenged those in power to make space for Indigenous voices

Commissioner Qajaq Robinson was in tears as she gave her closing comments: 'We know where the problem is and it's not with Indigenous people. It's with those in the halls of power who are not vacating the space,' she said. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

A passionate speech from one of the commissioners of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, challenging non-Indigenous people to make space for Indigenous voices, closed a four-day hearing in Iqaluit on Thursday afternoon.

Surrounded by elders and fellow commissioners, Qajaq Robinson — who is from Nunavut — gave her remarks during the closing ceremony of the hearing, which was centred on the topic of colonial violence.

"What I have learnt this week, that I think that is of most significance, is for those state actors, governments, whoever they were that came, came with the belief that they had the authority," Robinson said. "That they had the right to take it. A belief that was rooted in supremacy.

"But we've also heard about the resilience. And we've heard what we've always known: Indigenous people have the answers, and continue to have those answers."

"We heard a lot about space, and I think one of the most important things that I learned this week as a non-Indigenous person is the importance of vacating space that is not yours."

"There is no longer any reason to demand that Indigenous people justify to the state their legitimacy," she said. "Time's up."

"We know where the problem is and it's not with Indigenous people. It's with those in the halls of power who are not vacating the space."

The remarks came near the end of a closing ceremony featuring numerous examples of Inuit culture, including a traditional drum dance and a pair of young throat singers, ending four days of hearings that were often emotional for those in attendance.

Throat singer Becky Qilavvaq performed during the closing ceremony of the Iqaluit hearing, wearing a traditional dress made by her mother. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

Impact of 'man camps' discussed by panel

The final day of the hearing featured cross-examination of a panel focused on decolonization and a gendered Indigenous perspective, following testimony on Wednesday from Jasmine Redfern, TJ Lightfoot, and Jared McNeil-Seymour.

One of the topics brought up was the impact of "man camps," a name given to communities of transient workers — mostly male — with the resource industry that often move in near remote communities to staff mining operations.

On Wednesday, the commission heard that these camps often result in increased rates of physical and sexual violence for Indigenous women, as well as social problems like higher alcoholism rates.

Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour, far left, Jasmine Redfern, second from right, and TJ Lightfoot, far right, responded to cross-examination questions from parties with standing at the MMIWG hearing. Their testimony revolved around the impacts of the resource industry, as well as the experience of LGBTQ and two-spirit Indigenous people. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

Without going into specifics, Lightfoot explained that there are articles and studies that mention Indigenous women and children being abducted and found in these camps, and missing people being last seen near them.

"This concentration of people influxing around vulnerable communities … brings those consequences."

Lightfoot also touched on man caps during testimony on the difficulty of Indigenous women and LGBTQ people obtaining justice for sexual assault, saying that if they've been transported to one of these camps, "it's very hard to get back to report."

"Settlement naturally occurred by having the land be something to be conquered, something to be won," added McNeil-Seymour. "And I don't think that Canadian culture has not necessarily looked at women in that particular way, too."

During her questioning, Robinson noted that the makeup of these camps has historically been seen in other institutions, such as clergy, RCMP, and other industries. 

"You see this transient, gender-imbalanced dynamic with segregation and gender isolation in a number of areas, not just the extraction industry," she said, as the panellists nodded in agreement.

"Is this something we need to watch for, in every industry?"

"Yes," Lightfoot said.

In her closing remarks, chief commissioner Marion Buller commented on the fact that many difficult truths are being uncovered during the inquiry.

It will now head to Quebec City next week to begin another four-day hearing, this time centred on the impacts of police.

"I realized, for the first time, that the national inquiry is one big story," Buller said. "We hope to tell, in the end, the greatest story based on truth that we can. One that will change the world for the better."


  • This article previously misquoted Qajaq Robinson as saying "there is no longer any reason for us to justify our existence as Indigenous people." The quote has been corrected.
    Sep 17, 2018 9:00 AM CT


Garrett Hinchey

Managing Editor, CBC North

Garrett Hinchey is a Métis journalist based in his hometown of Yellowknife, where has worked since 2014. He has worked at CBC North as a social media presenter, copy editor, multimedia reporter, and senior assignment producer. He has been CBC North's managing editor since June 2021.