'We need to be honest': Yukoners prepare for MMIW inquiry

Commissioners and directors of the federal inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous woman and girls were in Whitehorse to lay the groundwork for the beginning of hearings on May 29.

Inquiry members in Whitehorse to lay groundwork for beginning of hearings on May 29

Jeanie Dendys, far right, says Yukoners are anxious to see a change in the high rates of violence against women in the North. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Yukoners are hoping for change in their communities to come out of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, says Jeanie Dendys, Yukon's minister responsible for the Women's Directorate.

Commissioners and directors with the inquiry were in Whitehorse for several days this week laying the groundwork for the hearing in the city on May 29. It will be the inquiry's first hearing.

Dendys was one of the people who invited the inquiry to come to the territory.

She said Yukoners welcome it because they want a better life for those affected by violence.

'That's what needs to change'

"We in the North have three to four times higher rates of violence against women in general, three to four times higher rates of violence against Indigenous women," said Dendys. "So that's what needs to change.

"We need to be honest about the level of violence in our own communities and to also recognize that is potentially why so many of our young women end up going to places where they're preyed upon."

The visit by the inquiry members began on Tuesday with a welcoming ceremony and meetings on Wednesday and Thursday with about 50 family members of those who have been murdered or who have gone missing and survivors of violence. They also met with government officials and community groups.

From left, Research director Aimée Craft, legal counsel Karen Snowshoe, community relations director Waneek Horn-Miller, Commissioner Marilyn Poitras and Chief Commissioner Marion Buller were in Whitehorse laying groundwork for the May 29 hearing. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Chief Commissioner Marion Bullers said it was useful to have local input from people who will be involved in the hearing on May 29. 

"We heard about the importance of creating a safe space for participants as well as the need for health support during and after the gatherings," said Bullers.

Dendys said the welcoming ceremony was important to set the tone for the inquiry.

"It's giving us a chance to start the inquiry in a way that will build a really strong foundation going forward," said Dendys.

"So it was really important to us and to the family members and to our government and First Nation governments to take the time to start in ceremony to really help them and lift them up and send that message across Canada that these commissioners have taken on an incredible responsibility on behalf of all us as Canadians.

"And for me, as an Indigenous woman, they've taken on a responsibility and we need to support them, to hold them up and help them along the way and to make sure if there is something we want in our jurisdiction that we're able to tell them that."