Thunder Bay

'I'm hoping this is not going to be too hard,' sister of murdered Indigenous woman says of national inquiry

Sharon Johnson wants to see culturally-appropriate mental health support for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women as a key component of the national public inquiry being announced on Wednesday.

Liberals announce details of national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women

Sharon Johnson, whose sister Sandra Johnson was killed in Thunder Bay in 1992, is attending the announcement on Wednesday of the details of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Sharon Johnson wants to see culturally-appropriate mental health support for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women as a key component of the national public inquiry announced on Wednesday.

Johnson's sister Sandra, was an 18-year-old fancy shawl dancer and aspiring musician when she was found dead in Thunder Bay, Ont. in 1992. She had gone for a walk to visit her cousin. Her murder remains unsolved.

At least nine Indigenous women have been killed in Thunder Bay since 1987. 

"I'm hoping that this is not going to be too hard on us, that it's not going to be harder than the actual loss of our sister," Johnson told CBC News as she awaited details of the inquiry.

Johnson was involved in the pre-inquiry design phase of the inquiry this spring but said she was "nervous" about Wednesday's announcement and unsure what to expect.

"Emotional [and] mental supports, spiritual as well, through our ceremonies" will need to be provided as part of the inquiry in order to make it a healing, rather than a hurtful process, she said.

The government announced Wednesday morning $16.17 million over four years to create family information liaison units in each province and territory and to increase funding for culturally appropriate victims' services.

The Native Women's Association of Canada immediately released an analysis of the terms of reference for the inquiry that was critical of the government's promise of support to families "for the duration of their appearance before the Commission."

  "Trauma does not manifest in a specific point in time: getting ready for the Inquiry will potentially be traumatic and certainly after the Inquiry, families and survivors will need ongoing support," the association said as part of its analysis.

The inquiry will begin Sept. 1 and run until Dec. 31, 2018, at a cost estimated at $53.8 million.

It will examine the factors driving a systemic, high rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and the role of various institutions, including police forces, governments and coroners' offices.

It will also review various federal and provincial laws, but will not find criminal liability.

Certain matters can be referred to police.

with files from Catharine Tunney and Catherine Cullen

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