PEI

Island Indigenous groups hope national inquiry sparks education, reforms on P.E.I.

Two P.E.I. Aboriginal groups say they're hopeful the conclusions of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will prompt changes to the Island's justice system, and help educate more Islanders.

'We're not going to get anywhere unless Canadians get on board and help us. There's a lot of work to do'

Lisa Cooper, chief of the Native Council of P.E.I., reads through the final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Two P.E.I. Indigenous groups say they're hopeful the conclusions of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will prompt changes to the province's justice system, and help educate more Islanders. 

The inquiry concluded thousands of women and girls were among the victims of "Canadian genocide," and that Canada, from its pre-colonial past to today, has aimed to "destroy Indigenous Peoples."

Marlene Thomas, the vice-president of the Aboriginal Women's Association of P.E.I., said she wants Islanders to pay attention and learn from the report's conclusions. 

"That's the most important thing for me — educate, educate, educate. We're not going to get anywhere unless Canadians get on board and help us. There's a lot of work to do," Thomas said. 

'The trust has to be there'

Lisa Cooper, chief of the Native Council of P.E.I., said part of that work has to include reforms to Canada's — and the Island's — justice systems. 

"We've known this for many, many years, that Indigenous people are treated differently. And if you look at the [final report], it more or less proved that cases aren't taken as seriously. It's 'oh, well that's just another street person, that's just another prostitute, that's just another Indigenous person," said Cooper. 

"The trust has to be there for the police and the RCMP, the judges, and the lawyers."

Native Council of P.E.I. Chief Lisa Cooper is hoping the inquiry's conclusions prompt reforms to the Island's justice system. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

As the head of a group representing hundreds of off-reserve, non-status Mi'kmaq Islanders, Cooper notes the report calls on the federal government to "uphold its constitutional responsibility to Métis people and to non-status people."

Cooper said she's hoping that leads to more government support for her members, and better efforts to lower the high rates of domestic violence in the Indigenous community. 

"If you're looking at addressing that and missing and murdered Indigenous women, then you have to go to the social determinants of health. What puts these women at risk? Why are there higher rates?"

P.E.I. government paying attention 

The final report includes more than 200 recommendations, some of which are aimed at local and provincial governments. 

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said he's taking the report very seriously. 

"I want to talk to our Mi'kmaq representatives in P.E.I. to find out what we can do together to actually implement these recommendations and to make a difference, and to allow the healing process and the reconciliation to continue."

More than 2,000 people testified as part of the national inquiry, including a handful of Islanders. 

"When you have to tell a story, it's as real today as the day it happened," said Cooper. "So my heart goes out to these women. They're strong, they're resilient. But it's a story that had to be told."

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With files from Kerry Campbell

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