Missing and murdered inquiry wraps emotional 1st hearings in Whitehorse

The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has wrapped up its first public hearings, in which people from across Yukon, Northwest Territories and B.C. shared their stories of hurt, loss and resiliency in a tent on the banks of the Yukon River.

Over 50 family members gave often emotional testimony during 3 days of hearings

Terry Ladue breaks down while speaking to commissioners at the first public hearings of the national inquiry in Whitehorse. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls wrapped up its long-awaited first public hearings in Whitehorse on Thursday.

For three days, people from across Yukon, Northwest Territories and British Columbia shared their stories of hurt, loss and resiliency in a large tent on the banks of the Yukon River.

Some also took the opportunity to urge the commissioners of the inquiry to make sure it finishes its work.

"If I see this fall apart, I'll never trust again," said Terry Ladue, 52, whose mother was killed after he and his siblings were taken by child welfare officials in the 1960s — and who has never spoken publicly of her death before.

"Dealing with this today, for me, is letting go of something that I haven't been able to let go of for 52 years."

'The magic of the healing'

With tears in her eyes and at times her voice choked with emotion, Marion Buller, the inquiry's chief commissioner, closed the hearings by thanking the elders and many families who spoke.

"In three days, we've heard stories of loss, pain but also stories of courage and hope," she said.

"But the most moving thing of all that's happened is the magic of the healing, you can feel it here."

Chief commissioner Marion Buller gives her final remarks at the hearings in Whitehorse. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

This is the last time the commission will hear from families until the fall, though Buller said that at some point the inquiry will return to Yukon for more hearings.

During the Whitehorse hearings, Buller also said that it's becoming obvious the inquiry will need more time to complete its mandate.

Respectful adjustments

The inquiry had come under intense scrutiny before the hearings began, and the criticism continues on social media, even as the hearings wrapped up.

Joan Jack, a lawyer who lives in Atlin, B.C., had been critical of the inquiry's requirement that people be sworn in. She and her family gave testimony without being affirmed.

Joan Jack, holding the microphone, says she remains skeptical of the hearings, even as she and her family gave testimony in Whitehorse. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"The commission is adjusting, that's Indigenous law at work … you respond respectfully to the situation," she told commissioners.

However, even as she gave testimony, she remained skeptical.

"I don't have a lot of faith that this process is going to produce anything."

'Time and space'

The commission says over 50 people took part in the hearings, some publicly, others privately.

Some families spoke for hours, and at times, the commissioners were in tears as they listened.

The inquiry has made a point not to interrupt or rush people who are giving testimony, which the commissioners said is about offering "time and space" to help people feel welcome.

Krista Reid, president of the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women's Circle, sat through most of the hearings.

She said she was impressed with how the commission conducted these first hearings, the format of which she believes will evolve as the inquiry moves to other parts of the country.

"The commissioners have been really accommodating, and I think that's what they're looking for, is that guidance of protocol," she said.