MMIWG inquiry report welcomed by families who testified in the North

The inquiry's 1,200-page report, released Monday, included a long list of recommendations for government, lawyers and police.

Final report from missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry was released Monday

Starr Drynock and her father Norman Drynock receive hugs after speaking at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls hearing in Whitehorse in 2017. (The Canadian Press)

Starr Drynock had never spoken publicly about her mother before.

But when the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) inquiry came to Whitehorse two years ago, Drynock decided to stand up and tell her story.

Starr was a baby when her mother's body was found in B.C.'s Nicola River in 1992. She told the inquiry that police deemed it a suicide, but her family believes it was murder. 

On Monday, after the inquiry's final report was presented, Drynock said she had no regrets about offering her testimony.

"I felt like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders because, you know, I realized that day that I'm not alone," she recalled. 

'I realized that day that I'm not alone,' said Starr Drynock about the inquiry hearing she attended in 2017. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The inquiry's 1,200-page report, delivered to the federal government in a nearly four-hour ceremony in Gatineau, Que., Monday, included a long list of recommendations for government, lawyers and police to address the levels of violence endured by Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.

For Drynock, the report marks a watershed moment for herself, and the country.

"I was actually quite emotional. You know, reading everything," she said. 

"I feel like, you know, something was finally done, and I am hoping that all the non-Indigenous peoples out there will start playing their parts and helping ... rebuild our nation."

A copy of the final, 1,200-page report — and its 231 "calls for justice" — is available here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, holds a copy of the report presented to him by commissioners Marion Buller, centre, Michele Audette, third from right, Brian Eyolfson, second from right, and Qajaq Robinson at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

More likely to be murdered or go missing

The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada — and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women.

Anne Catholique's niece, Charlene Catholique, was 15 when she went​​​ went missing near Behchoko, N.W.T., on July 22, 1990. She was originally from Lutselk'e.

On June 9, 2017, the Northwest Territories Supreme Court issued an order stating there were reasonable grounds to presume Charlene was dead. Her case was featured on a national missing persons page last month.

Anne Catholique said she's pleased with the inquiry's final report, particularly the call to recruit more Indigenous people into police services.

She believes that if the report's recommendations were enacted before Charlene went missing, there would have been a different outcome.

"When there's a Native working in the investigation, then the family feels comfortable because the Natives will also be more into it because it's like a brother or sister thing, and it's more involvement and more caring," Catholique said.

Concerns about coming election

Laura MacKenzie gave testimony to the inquiry in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, in 2018. She spoke about her aunt, Betsy Kalaserk, who took her own life.

Kalaserk lived with trauma from years of sexual abuse by a close family member. During her testimony, MacKenzie called on the government to offer health and social services in the North equal to those in the South.

MacKenzie told CBC on Monday that she is impressed with the inquiry's recommendations, but she worries about the upcoming federal election.

Laura MacKenzie, whose aunt Betsy Kalaserk took her own life, said Monday she was impressed with the inquiry's recommendations. (CBC)

"I have no political agenda [but] my concern is that if the Liberals do not get into power this year, that this agenda about missing and murdered Indigenous women and the recommendations that come out will not be implemented with a different party," she said.

"This was the Liberal government's agenda and the Conservative government never had an agenda in regards to the MMIW [missing and murdered Indigenous women]."

MacKenzie urged all Canadians to read the report and ask themselves: "What can I do for my community, myself, and in Canada as a whole?"

Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, an organization that advocates for Inuit women, was pleased to see a recommendation for an ombudsperson.

The final report calls for an Indigenous and human rights ombudsperson who can take complaints from Indigenous people and communities related to violations of their Indigenous and human rights. The ombudsperson would also evaluate government services for compliance with Indigenous rights and laws.

Kudloo said she wants progress on fulfilling the inquiry's recommendations to be monitored.

"Inuit are very resilient," she said, "but there really needs to be a support system for them, even way past the inquiry."

'A living, breathing document'

Speaking to CBC North, inquiry commissioner Qajaq Robinson, who is from Nunavut, said the next steps are ensuring that this "living, breathing document" doesn't sit on a shelf, and that people keep demanding action.

She said federal, provincial and territorial governments need to act, but they can't do it alone.

Inquiry commissioner Qajaq Robinson, who is from Nunavut, called the final report a 'living, breathing document.' (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

"The time of government doing things for Indigenous peoples is over. It's time to do things with Indigenous people," Robinson said.

She wants to see an action plan developed in full partnership with Indigenous people, especially women, girls, families and survivors "who know what needs to be done, firsthand."

With files from Steve Silva, Sidney Cohen, Jordan Konek, Juanita Taylor and Roch Shannon Fraser