Day 6

New report, same old response: Ryan McMahon confronts Canada's reaction to the MMIWG inquiry

In 2017, Ryan McMahon wrote a series for Day 6 called 12 steps to decolonizing Canada. He ended it by asking Canadians to listen to Indigenous people. In the wake of the MMIWG inquiry's final report, McMahon says it's more clear than ever that's not happening.

'There is just an unfathomable amount of pain,' says Ryan McMahon

Lorelei Williams, right, whose cousin Tanya Holyk was murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton and aunt Belinda Williams went missing in 1978, wipes away tears while seated with Rhiannon Bennett, left, after responding to the report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Vancouver on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Ryan McMahon ended his 12-step guide to decolonizing Canada two years ago on Day 6 by pleading with Canadians to "listen to Indigenous peoples."

Now, amid furor following the release of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls' final report, he says it's more clear than ever that's not happening.

"It's not just that we're not listening to each other, it's that we're having completely different conversations," McMahon, an Anishnaabe comedian, writer and podcast host told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

The report, released on Monday, was compiled from thousands of testimonies and includes 231 calls to justice.

Critics quickly honed in, however, on the inquiry's finding that the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls amounts to genocide.

Writers for major publications across the country questioned whether the tragedies faced by Indigenous women and girls should be considered as serious as well-documented genocides like the Holocaust, the Holomodor in Soviet Ukraine and the Rwandan genocide.

Writer and comedian Ryan McMahon is the producer and host of Thunder Bay, a podcast that explores deaths of Indigenous people in the Northern Ontario city. (CBC)

McMahon, who produced and hosted the podcast Thunder Bay about deaths of Indigenous peoples in that city, says those critics are dismissing the inquiry's work by focusing on legalese.

"The fact is that the commissioners [of] the inquiry did not pull this word out of thin air [and] put it on paper to create a really heavy type of politic around the work," he told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"They did it because they talked to 2,300 families over the course of two years."

Those testimonies, he said, described how the deaths and disappearances weigh on Indigenous people.

"I think that there should be no surprise that people misunderstand this work and misrepresent this work," he said.

'Not having the conversation is not an option'

Several Indigenous media commentators, including Jesse Wente and Alicia Elliott, publicly questioned or ended their continued work with traditional media outlets including the CBC after they said coverage of the report was mishandled.

Still, McMahon isn't surprised that Indigenous people are weary of the coverage, adding that they feel abandoned by the media.

"It's a really, really tough feeling to feel like you're not believed, and worse than that, that you're not valued — and we're talking about a national shame," he told Bambury.

"We learn about the levels of shame that we really need to sit with and to feel like, before the ink was even dry on these reports, people were willing to trash them and to throw them into the garbage because of the use of the word is sobering."

Day 6 invited several Indigenous women to speak about the report, but they either declined or did not respond.

McMahon says he consulted with Indigenous women and family members before speaking about the report. They were unanimous in their feedback: Indigenous men need to be part of the solution.

"They have to be part of writing the record and I have no problem being here today to say we can all do more and we can all do better. Not having the conversation is not an option," he said.

While McMahon says a lot of people are feeling an "unfathomable amount of pain" caused by the re-traumatization of victims, the opportunity for Canadians to still listen to Indigenous women and girls remains.

"If there's one thing that I know about Indigenous people, it's that we are strong; we are resilient," he said.

To hear the full interview with Ryan McMahon, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.