MMIWG national inquiry announces new executive director, director of research

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will have two new people working on its team starting Monday in the roles of executive director and director of research.

Jennifer Moore Rattray and Karine Duhamel start work Monday

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) commissioner Michelle Audette expects the federal government to agree to an extension. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will have two new people on its team starting Monday in the roles of executive director and director of research.

Jennifer Moore Rattray, a member of the Peepeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan, has been named the inquiry's new executive director.

She previously worked for the Manitoba provincial government as the assistant deputy minister for the Department of Families. She is also currently serving a five-year term on the CBC/Radio-Canada Board of Directors.

The inquiry's top job has been vacant since January when Debbie Reid left after roughly four months in the role. Calvin Wong, the inquiry's director of operations, has been serving as interim lead since Reid's departure. 

Rattray will become the team's third official executive director since the inquiry started its two-year mandate in September 2016. 

Meetings begin Monday

Inquiry commissioner Michèle Audette said Rattray was picked for the job with the assistance of a headhunter who helped the team go back to previous applicants for the role.

She said on Monday all four commissioners, along with some staffers, will be meeting with Rattray to make in-person introductions and get to work. 

"We have a big, big, big agenda," said Audette. 

"We want to take time to tell her the phases that we did with the community visits, some challenges and some amazing things and we want to prepare her for the second phase, which is part two and part three: the institutional hearings and expert and keepers of the knowledge panel." 

Audette added that it will also be a priority for Rattray to meet with members of the inquiry family advisory circle.

Cynthia Cardinal is a member of the advisory circle and said she doesn't know much about Rattray but said she expects she will learn more about her during the circle's next conference call later this week. 

She said she hopes that the inquiry has picked the right person for the job and that the work can continue to get done. 

"In case we don't get our extension, at least have that person fill that position and go from there, I guess," she said. "Hopefully things will work out OK." 

Inquiry staff's first face-to-face meeting held in January

Dr. Karine Duhamel will also begin work on Monday after being named Director of Research for the inquiry, following Aimeé Craft's departure in October of last year.

Duhamel, who has a PhD in history from the University of Manitoba, previously worked at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights as curator for Indigenous Rights and is Anishinaabe Métis.

"It helps me to think that, yes, we have a strong leader and also one in research, an Indigenous woman also who has a PhD. So we have to be proud of that," said Audette.

While the first year or so of the inquiry's mandate was marked with more than a dozen firings and resignations, Audette said the inquiry has been running more smoothly these past few months after interim director Calvin Wong stepped into the role. 

"It was amazing where we were able to [finally put together] a foundation and we had the first face-to-face meeting with all the staff of the national inquiry at the beginning of January," said Audette. 

Lack of decision on extension 'not fair'

In a news release announcing the new appointees to the inquiry team, Chief Commissioner Marion Buller wrote that they will greatly benefit from the skills, knowledge and expertise of Rattray and Duhamel. 

"These strong leaders join a passionate, talented and hard-working team of individuals who are united by a deep commitment to the vital task at hand," she wrote. 

Chief Commissioner Marion Buller addresses the crowd at the opening ceremony of the MMIWG inquiry community hearings in Richmond, B.C., in April following a blanketing ceremony led by Chris Lewis (left) from the Squamish Nation. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

The inquiry requested a two-year extension on its mandate from the federal government last month, but no decision has been announced. The inquiry's current deadline for a final report is November 2018. 

Audette commended the two women for stepping into their new roles when there is still no news about whether or not the extension will be approved.

"It's not fair for the families and survivors across Canada not to know if there is, or not, an extension. It's not fair for the entire staff," she said.