'This is what our people need': gathering an alternative to MMIWG national inquiry
Family-organized gathering offered more supports, better platform than national inquiry, say attendees
For some attendees, the Mamawe! Mekowishwewin-miyomachowin gathering in Regina was an alternative to the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
The event brought together family members of murdered or missing Indigenous, women, girls and two-spirit people to share their stories and seek healing.
"Being a lodge keeper, to me, this is what our people need," said Pat Pratt-Malbeuf, one of the gathering's organizers.
Pratt-Malbeuf said the main goal of the gathering is healing, but once the conference wraps up, a final report will be prepared and studied. That report will hopefully contain ways to prevent tragedies like missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls from happening in the future.
She said the gathering is also about making connections and finding support from one another — something she never had.
Her daughter Denice Dawn Cyr, was killed by a Regina Police Service officer in 1996. At the time she struggled financially and didn't know where to turn for help.
She said she's found closure in her own way and didn't participate in the national inquiry.
"I didn't feel like I belonged," Pratt-Malbeuf said.
In organizing this weekend's event, Pratt-Malbeuf said she found many other family members who felt as though they didn't belong at the national inquiry process. She said many of the families felt as though they never had the support of law enforcement.
'A positive step forward'
Organizing the conference was her way of giving the healing process back to the grassroots people.
"If we don't have our own leadership step up first, then who has to do it? We do as grassroots people, as Kohkums, as mothers, sisters, aunties and that's why I'm here today," she said.
Pratt-Malbeuf said she would like to see the gathering happen next year or become an annual event.
Delores Stevenson, the aunt of Nadine Machiskinic, said she too would like to see a gathering like this weekend's happen annually.
"After going through the national inquiry I think that a lot of people felt they didn't really trust the process," she said. "The fact that the families are able to host these events and be a part of the planning, and be a part of healing, essentially, I think that's a positive step forward."
Stevenson participated in the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. She called the process traumatizing and hectic and said she never felt like she was in a safe place at that event.
That's a stark contrast with how she felt through the Mamawe! Mekowishwewin-miyomachowin gathering.
"The energy is positive, and I like the fact that we can come together and we can share with each other our strengths and our healing journeys," Stevenson said.
One of the biggest differences between the inquiry and this weekend's gathering for Stevenson was the level of support that was offered.
Spiritual healers, smudging, mental health therapists, quiet rooms and reiki were offered on-site through the weekend.
Stevenson said she felt as though after-care was lacking at the national inquiry. Participating left her in a self-described out-of-control spiral and she had to go out on her own and find counselling services.
"You don't leave somebody in that state, especially after the national inquiry, it was really heavy," Stevenson said.
Gathering gives families platform
For some, the gathering is not only a method of healing; it's also a way for them to share their missing or murdered loved ones' story.
Vera Roy's niece, who was born as Michelle Lee Sanderson, was murdered in Edmonton in 2009. Her case is still unsolved.
Roy said she was taken into the care system as part of the Sixties Scoop and bounced in and out of the correctional system in Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, Sask.
"She was caught up in the system her whole life," Roy said. "As a result of that, I saw, as one of her older aunts, I saw a young adult that was so broken. Very broken."
Roy said she shared her niece's story at this weekend's gathering, along with her frustrations with the justice system and the national inquiry.
She said she missed out on attending the national inquiry gathering hosted in Saskatoon and instead shared her niece's story with an inquiry staffer after the fact but she was unsatisfied with the way that went.
Roy said she felt more comfortable sharing her niece's story at the gathering in Regina over the past few days.
"I really like this. There's openness here that's happening here at the conference, everybody's telling their story," she said. "We're not being forced to tell our stories."