Thunder Bay

'Hurry up and wait' inquiry process hurting families of missing, murdered Indigenous women

When Karen Kejick registered to participate in the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, she heard back from a lawyer, but no one offering support for her well-being.

'How do you expect families to do all that work?' asks daughter of Frances Kejick, who was killed in 1997

"I hope that my voice will be heard," says Karen Kejick of her desire to hold inquiry hearings in a roundhouse in her First Nation near the Ontario/Manitoba boundary. (Karen Kejick)

When Karen Kejick registered to participate in the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, she heard back from a lawyer, but no one offering support for her well-being.

The band councillor from Iskatewizaagegan (Shoal Lake) 39 First Nation in northwestern Ontario has lost three family members to violence, including her mother, Frances Kejick, who was killed in 1997.

"I'm not sure if they have anyone specialized on the team that would help deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, all types of mental health counseling," Kejick said. "We need those types of specialists and all types of healers, a woman healer, male healer things that would help us while we are triggered."

Currently the inquiry lists a legal team of eight and a health team of one on its staff.

The lack of support for family members is one of key concerns raised in a May 15 open letter to Chief Commissioner Marion Buller from more than fifty family members, lawyers and advocacy groups.

'Critical issues'

It lists nine "critical issues and questions that urgently need to be addressed":

  • 1. A lack of respect for "the spirits of our relations" by inconsistently following Indigenous ceremonial protocols
  • 2. The need for an extension to the inquiry's timeframe which requires a first report on Nov. 1 when the majority of family testimony is not expected to be heard until fall
  • 3. The need for new leadership within the commission of inquiry from "recognized and respected Indigenous grassroots experts across the country".
  • 4. An end to "continued delays, silence, miscommunications, confusion, repeated cancellations..." that have "already left some families re-traumatized".
  • 5. Access for families to lawyers and to traditional healing supports
  • 6. Answers to questions about the involvement of the Privy Council Office in the inquiry and its impact on the independence of the inquiry's work
  • 7.  A clear communications plan and strategy relayed to families in a predictable and reliable manner
  • 8. More clarity around legal standing at the inquiry and an extension to the deadline for applying to standing, which has now passed
  • 9. A clearly published schedule of events and locations 

Kejick is not part of the group behind the letter, but she shares some of the concerns it expresses.

"If you're the lead pursuing this on behalf of your family, your family is also needing that support, so how do you expect families to do all that work and get ready in anticipation of going to these meetings?" she asked.

The pace of the inquiry is creating additional stress, Kejick said.

'Straining the families'

Last week, the inquiry announced it would delay its public hearings with family members outside of Yukon until an undetermined date in the fall. 

'There's this 'hurry up and wait, let's hurry up and wait' and it's straining the families," she said.

Still, Kejick said she is compelled to remain hopeful that change will come from the inquiry. She is inviting the inquiry to hold a hearing for families in Treaty 3 territory where she can have "spiritual and cultural supports wrapped around myself, my family and other families, in terms of a sacred fire, a drum and healing songs."

Now is the time for listening to the voices of Indigenous women, Kejick said.

"And if I say I want an inquiry conducted and brought to my community in a roundhouse, I hope that my voice will be heard, because my mother's voice wasn't heard, my cousin's voice wasn't heard, and my aunt's voice wasn't heard."