Saskatchewan

Sask. families divided on whether MMIWG inquiry needs 'reset' or should continue as is

As the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls makes a preliminary visit to Saskatchewan this week, there are divided opinions on whether or not the inquiry should continue in its current form.

Team will be in Regina Monday and Tuesday, and in Saskatoon Wednesday and Thursday

The national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls makes a preliminary visit to Saskatchewan this week. (CBC)

As the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls makes a preliminary visit to Saskatchewan this week, there are divided opinions on whether or not the inquiry should continue in its current form. 

In a letter written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, dozens of family members, activists and academics say the inquiry is "deeply misguided" and that victims' families have been left out. 

That letter calls for the entire process to be scrapped and the remaining commissioners resign. 

"A lot of families and loved ones are feeling disconnected and harmed by the process of the inquiry," said Julie Kaye, a University of Saskatchewan sociology professor and one of the signatories to the letter sent to Trudeau.

Inquiry staff are visiting Saskatoon and Regina this week, hoping to connect with families in advance of the official hearing in November. 

Kaye said the inquiry needs "a reset" and said many families across the country are being left out, despite the efforts to sign up families before the official hearings begin. 

It is really their inquiry.- Laura Ookoop

"Nobody is looking for the inquiry to end. It's about it getting built in a way that it was intended to be built from the outset," she said. 

Laura Ookoop, whose mother was killed in 2014, said the inquiry needs to take a more holistic and "united" Indigenous approach. That's why she, too, signed her name to the letter addressed to the prime minister. 

"We want a fair process. Right now people are hurting, people are dying," she said. 

Kaye said the coalition is not asking for the inquiry to be sidelined altogether; she said it just needs to be rebuilt and reorganized in a way that respects families. 

"These voices calling for a reset, calling for the real organization that is needed are the people who made it needed and the people who made into a national issue to begin with. It is really their inquiry," she said. 

The inquiry has been plagued with problems since the outset. Some high-profile staff members have resigned. Just last month, Marilyn Poitras, a Métis professor at the University of Saskatchewan, stepped down as a commisioner. She cited issues with the "current structure" of the inquiry. 

'We don't want a reset': local advocate 

But not everyone in Saskatchewan agrees with the idea of a reboot. 

Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte has been an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women for years. Her cousin, Shelley Napope, was murdered by John Martin Crawford in 1992.

Okemaysim-Sicotte said the inquiry is already on the ground doing important work, and that calls for the resignation of commissioners or a reset are unfounded. 

Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte has been an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women for years. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC )

"We've worked really hard on this. We don't want a reset. We want to keep our commissioners and they are already doing a good job," Okemaysim-Sicotte said.

She said the people who wrote the letter should be instead focusing their energy on making sure families feel respected within the current framework of the inquiry. 

"Those people really could be part of the solution by helping engage families to feel comfortable and feel safe. ... I think in the longer scheme of things, the inquiry will survive that kind of attention," she said. 

'Ongoing national tragedy'

In July, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said she agreed with calls from the Assembly of First Nations to tweak the inquiry, including better communication with families.

A new statement from the minister's office said the government remains committed to ending the "ongoing national tragedy," and that the inquiry's terms of reference require that families be central to the commission's work.

The statement said the government is working in the meantime with Inuit, First Nations and Métis partners to honour lost women and girls, and to advance reconciliation.

"We've taken immediate action with a new gender-based violence strategy, changes to the child and family welfare system for Indigenous children, safe housing, shelters and work with British Columbia towards safe transport on the Highway of Tears," the statement reads.

Information sessions this week 

Health, legal and community relations workers are in Regina Monday and Tuesday. Then, a team will be in Saskatoon on Wednesday and Thursday.

The teams are in the two cities to get in contact with families who wish to participate in the Truth Gathering Process, which will be held in Saskatoon on Nov. 20.

Families who wish to participate can call community liaison officers Morene Gabriel at 1-204-291-5193 or Penny Kerrigan at 1-778-238-6876.

A release by the organization did not say where the families will meet the teams in either city.


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