Survivors unite to provide MMIWG inquiry aftercare

Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre will be offering support services throughout inquiry.

Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre will be offering support services throughout 3 days of testimony

The Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre will be a centre of support services for the MMWIG inquiry this week. May Henderson (left), Julie Kaye and Sara Adams hold up care bags for families. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC)

After families complained about a lack of aftercare at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, a group of community members have stepped up to tackle the issue.

The Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre is setting itself up as the official support centre for families of MMIWG.

Three days of MMIWG inquiry testimony in Sasktoon begin on Tuesday.

Danielle Ewenin, a member of the working group that organized the centre, said the inquiry only deals with a person while they're testifying. 

"As soon as they leave there is nothing there," said Ewenin.

Ewenin is the sister of Eleanor (Laney) Ewenin who was found on the outskirts of Calgary in 1982.

She says the idea for establishing a support centre came together following the initial MMIWG meeting in Saskatoon earlier this year. Services will include a shuttle service to the Friendship Centre, mental and spiritual support, child care and children's activities. 

"So people aren't going to go into crisis ... there will be ways to help them process their grief," said Ewenin.

Friendship Centre support services co-ordinator Julie Kaye said they want to provide a safe space and a home fire away from home.

Care bags for families contain small welcoming items such as candy, hand warmers, cedar and sage. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC)

What started with an initial group of about 10 people has grown to countless volunteers and families in true grassroots fashion by "word of mouth," said Kaye, who is also an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan.

"The inquiry coming and leaving ... taking stories and exiting out without supporting the community," she said.

According to Kaye, the inquiry is an opportunity to learn from families of MMIWG who have a lot of knowledge surrounding the topic but have no place to share.

The National Inquiry allocated $17,000, which will be used for food and to provide artists, mental health workers, elders and other therapy service workers with a small honorarium.

​In an email to CBC News late last week, inquiry health team director Terrellyn Fearn acknowledged the "painful experience" of families and loved ones at the hearings.

She said the health team accommodated a few requests from individuals seeking support that were brought up to them in Edmonton on a case-by-case basis but it was up to the individuals to reach out to the health team.

Breakfast, lunch and supper will be provided at the Friendship Centre Tuesday to Thursday. Anyone at the inquiry needing shuttle services should look for individuals wearing a red shirt with a blue lanyard.

Friendship centre director May Henderson said being able to provide a place for the community is what the centre is all about.

"It's what we do, we help people!"

About the Author

Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC