Nunavut’s legislators hail release of MMIWG final report

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Nunavut legislators hailed the final report from the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), which was released June 3.

Lorne Kusugak spoke of a painful personal connection and hope for the future.

Lorne Kusugak: “For those of us who bear daughters, we don’t bring them up to be physically abused or to be fearful for one’s life, and we don’t bring them up to be senselessly murdered.”
NNSL file photo

“I have lost a sister who was murdered. The work they undertook was near and dear to my heart, and I completely understand the feelings of loss. I send my gratitude to the inquiry as this allowed many people to move on and will help in the future years,” said Kusugak.

“For those of us who bear daughters, we don’t bring them up to be physically abused or to be fearful for one’s life, and we don’t bring them up to be senselessly murdered, as that isn’t why we bear daughters. We bring them up with love, with adoration, and expectations of watching them grow old, and that is why we bring up our daughters for. Murdering, physical abuse, and belittlement of our women must stop.”

Cathy Towtongie also expressed thanks for the commission’s work. She advised Indigenous women to be cautious when travelling.

“I advise all my fellow women in Nunavut to exercise great care when travelling to Winnipeg, Montreal, Edmonton, or even down to Vancouver, as all of Canada has been impacted, so be very cautious as I don’t want anything untoward to happen to you, your children, or your daughters,” she said.

The final report outlines hundreds of recommendations aimed at governments, institutions, agencies and all Canadians to end what the Inquiry’s commissioners call a colonially-rooted and enabled “Canadian genocide” against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people across the country.

“Genocide is the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed within this report,” states the report’s introduction.

“As many witnesses expressed, this country is at war, and Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are under siege.”

The final report, containing more than 1,0000 pages, was made public following a closing ceremony in Gatineau, Quebec.

A portion of a heart-filled tapestry created by some residents of Kugluktuk in tribute to Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing.
photo courtesy of Barbara Adjun

Officially launched in September 2016 under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, the inquiry was mandated to explore the underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, along with the cultural, social, economic and institutional catalysts that enable the continued violence against the vulnerable demographic.

Between 2017 and 2018, the inquiry heard from nearly 1,500 family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as survivors of violence, at dozens of heart-rending hearings across the country.

The inquiry was initiated after years of calls from Indigenous women’s groups to address what many called Canada’s “hidden crisis” — staggeringly high, and disproportionate, rates of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls across the country.

On Monday, the inquiry, led by four commissioners and headed by chief commissioner Marion Buller, put forth 231 recommendations or “Calls for Justice,” categorized in the following groups: calls for all governments; calls for industries, institutions, services and partnerships; Inuit, Metis and 2SLGBTQQIA-specific calls for justice; and calls for all Canadians.

You can read the full final report from the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls here: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Final_Report_Vol_1b.pdf

Calls for all governments

Among the many recommendations aimed at all levels of government, the report recommends federal, provincial, territorial and municipal and Indigenous governments develop and establish a National Action Plan alongside Canada’s Indigenous peoples to confront violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

Evidence heard during the inquiry, “makes it clear that changing the structures and the systems that sustain violence in daily encounters is not only necessary to combat violence, but is an essential legal obligation of all governments in Canada,” the final report states.

The report also urges governments to form “culturally competent” response teams in “all communities and regions to meet the immediate needs” of Indigenous individuals and families following violent and traumatic events, including murder and accidents.

Under the same heading, the inquiry encourages changes to Canada’s justice system.

“We call upon the federal government to consider violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people as an aggravating factor at sentencing, and to amend the Criminal Code accordingly, with the passage and enactment of Bill S-215,” the report states.

When an offender is being sentenced for a crime, the court considers both mitigating and aggravating factors related to the case. The latter can range from assaults against a domestic partner — victims who are considered particularly vulnerable by the courts and Parliament — to committing a crime within a criminal organization. The final report recommends that violence against Indigenous women and girls should be an aggravating factor in and of itself, which could spell harsher sentences for offenders if implemented.

Calls for police services

Police agencies —  called to acknowledge that the historical and contemporary relationship between Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA people and the justice system has been “largely defined by colonialism, racism, bias, discrimination and fundamental cultural and societal differences” —  are urged to recruit more Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA people, to vet all recruits to safeguard against racial, gender and sexual orientation biases, and to implement anti-racism and language training for officers.

The final report recommends a “standardization of protocols for policies and practices that ensure that all cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people are thoroughly investigated.”

Following the report’s release, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki stated the force will “study the final report and its recommendations and give careful consideration to changes that strengthen investigations, support survivors and their families … and reduce violence against Indigenous women, girls and the 2SLGBTQQIA community.”

Lucki added that over the course of the National Inquiry, the RCMP adopted several new policy and training measures, including the formation of a national unit to oversee “major case investigations,” while reviewing over 30,000 sexual assault files across the country. “Strengthening cultural awareness training for all employees” also became a priority, Lucki stated in Monday’s press release.

Calls for all Canadians 

The final report calls on all Canadian to:

  • Denounce and speak out against violence against Indigenous women, girls, and
    2SLGBTQQIA people.
  • Decolonize by learning the true history of Canada and Indigenous history in your local
    area. Learn about and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ history, cultures, pride, and diversity, acknowledging the land you live on and its importance to local Indigenous
    communities, both historically and today.
  • Develop knowledge and read the Final Report. Listen to the truths shared, and acknowledge the burden of these human and Indigenous rights violations, and how they impact Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people today.
  • Using what you have learned and some of the resources suggested, become a strong ally. Being a strong ally involves more than just tolerance; it means actively working to break down barriers and to support others in every relationship and encounter in which you participate.
  • Confront and speak out against racism, sexism, ignorance, homophobia, and transphobia, and teach or encourage others to do the same, wherever it occurs: in your home, in your workplace, or in social settings.
  • Protect, support, and promote the safety of women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people by
    acknowledging and respecting the value of every person and every community, as well
    as the right of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people to generate their
    own, self-determined solutions.
  • Create time and space for relationships based on respect as human beings, supporting
    and embracing differences with kindness, love, and respect. Learn about Indigenous
    principles of relationship specific to those Nations or communities in your local area and
    work, and put them into practice in all of your relationships with Indigenous Peoples.
  • Help hold all governments accountable to act on the Calls for Justice, and to implement
    them according to the important principles we set out.

‘The 231 Calls for Justice must be implemented’

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), a non-profit group instrumental in making the National Inquiry a reality after years of advocacy work, called the release of the final report a “significant milestone” in identifying the causes of “all forms” of violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people in Canada.

“The truths shared at the hearing tell thousands of stories of acts of genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people that persists to this day,” states a press release from NWAC issued Monday.

“We have the right to safety and security. Our women must be treated with respect and Dignity,” stated Roseann Martin, an Elder at NWAC, who commended the families and survivors who “spoke up to make sure this is possible.”

To bring an end to discrimination and systemic violence, the “231 Calls for Justice must be implemented,” stated NWAC CEO Lynne Groulx.

The final report’s authors make it clear that despite the thousands of voices heard during the inquiry, “without a doubt there are many more,” victims.

“What connects all these deaths is colonial violence, racism and oppression,” states the final report.

“Colonial violence, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, has become embedded in everyday life – whether this is through interpersonal forms of violence, through institutions like the healthcare system and the justice system, or in the laws, policies and structures of Canadian society.”

The result is that for many Indigenous people violence has been normalized, “while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy,” the report states.

“The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls finds that this amounts to genocide.”

“To put an end to this tragedy, the rightful power and place of women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people must be reinstated, which requires dismantling the structures of colonialism within Canadian society,” stated Commissioner Michèle Audette in a press release Monday.

“This is not just a job for governments and politicians. It is incumbent on all Canadians to hold our leaders to account,” added Audette.

– with files from Brendan Burke