North

Qajaq Robinson no substitute for Inuk on inquiry commission, says Inuit women's group

National Inuit women's group Pauktuutit says it is not satisfied to have Qajaq Robinson represent Inuit as one of the five commissioners overseeing the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

‘I cannot understand how in 2016 we are still not included,’ says Pauktuutit president

From left, Commissioners Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson listen during the launch of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The national Inuit women's group says it is not satisfied to have Qajaq Robinson represent Inuit as one of the five commissioners overseeing the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, named the members of the commission on Wednesday in Ottawa and released the framework for the inquiry which will begin Sept. 1, last more than two years and cost an estimated $53.8 million.

Robinson is a lawyer in Ottawa at the firm Borden, Ladner, Gervais. Although she was raised in Nunavut and speaks fluent Inuktitut, she is not Inuk.

"I cannot understand how in 2016 we are still not included," said Pauktuutit president Rebecca Kudloo.

Kudloo first raised concerns about the issue when the names of the proposed commissioners were leaked to the media but would not speak directly about Robinson.

Pauktuutit's Rebecca Kudloo, speaks in Kuujjuaq, Que., in July. She says for the inquiry to be meaningful to Inuit it must be led by Indigenous women, including Inuit women. (Sandy Tooma/CBC)

"This is not in any way personal," said Kudloo. "For this inquiry to be meaningful to Inuit it must be led by Indigenous women, including us Inuit women. This is to me a fundamental matter of principle, equality and trust."

Kudloo pointed to the trauma of relocation, residential schools, food security and hunger as some examples of issues that could only be fully grasped by an Inuk.

"How can a non-Inuk speak for or understand fully what we have gone through?" she said.

Robinson is best known in Nunavut for her work with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association as a senior policy advisor and for her role as a Crown prosecutor in Iqaluit.

She also assisted the Nunavik Marine Regional Wildlife Board in its 2014 public hearings on establishing harvesting levels of polar bears in the Southern Hudson Bay region of Nunavik.

But it was Robinson's representation of A Tribe Called Red's Ian Campeau, also known as DJ NDN, in his legal fight at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal with the Nepean Redskins Football Club over its name and logo that introduced her to Canadians outside of the North.

The club changed its name to the Nepean Eagles three weeks after Robinson filed Campeau's case.

Kudloo said her organization as well as other Inuit groups from Nunavut and Nunavik had put forward the names of several Inuit who could take on the role of commissioner.

"We didn't want to be an afterthought like we were at the TRC commission," she said.

'When I took the time to think about who might be appropriate, I didn't have any issues or problems with Qajaq,' says Madeleine Redfern. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

"We have very strong women in our regions as ambassadors, one nominated for a Nobel prize, presidents of our land claims, we also have lawyers, doctors and nurses."   

Kudloo is calling for the addition of a sixth commissioner who is an Inuk.

She said her biggest regret is not being able to deliver on the wishes of the affected Inuit families who participated in the pre-inquiry consultations.

"I have also been saddened by the fact that we have not been able to communicate any information or updates about the national inquiry to Inuit, especially the family members who have put trust in us. I apologize if you feel we have let you down."

'She's born here, raised here'

Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern, who like Robinson was a graduate of the Akitsiraq Law program — a partnership between the University of Victoria and Nunavut Arctic College — says she's supportive of the appointment.

"When I took the time to think about who might be appropriate, I didn't have any issues or problems with Qajaq," said Redfern.

"She's born here, raised here, knows our culture, speaks our language and as I said, I think it's a very difficult job to do and I think she'll be able to do it."

'Commonality' in the Inuit experience

Iqaluit's Janet Brewster says she is pleased that after years of advocacy the inquiry is finally beginning. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
Iqaluit's Janet Brewster has lost both her aunt Sylvia Ann Lyall and her cousin Angela Pitseolak Meyer. She was one of the people who attended the pre-inquiry meeting in Iqaluit

She sat with her family over caribou stew yesterday in Iqaluit to watch the media conference.

"I think, like many families who are hearing this news, there's a lot of silence as we all take our time to ingest this news and to figure out what it means to us," said Brewster.

"Having a family member murdered or multiple family members creates a sense of isolation because it's really difficult to talk about these issues."

Brewster would not comment on Robinson's appointment to the commission.

She said she is pleased that after years of advocacy the inquiry is finally beginning. Over the years she's had the opportunity to share her story with many other affected Inuit families, and says there's a "commonality" in the Inuit experience that is different from other Indigenous groups.

"We don't have the same social factors that are contributing to these losses as Métis and First Nations do, being from urban cities."

Brewster said that domestic violence is a key factor for Inuit which will need to be dealt with in an Inuit specific way at the inquiry.

"The high level of violence in our communities is something that plays out on a daily basis. Inuit men and women and children are being exposed to this violent behaviour on a daily basis and that creates more opportunity or more chance that somebody is going to lose their life."

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.

With files from John Van Dusen

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