In December 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the Indigenous population of Canada that he sought to improve the relationship between the government and Indigenous Canadians. He proposed to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in order to bring the families of the victims justice and shed light on the problem of violence against the Indigenous culture. Trudeau was met with a positive reaction to his action plan. However, nearly two years later, not much progress has been made.
According to Tanya Talaga of the Toronto Star, “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police say there are nearly 1,200 murdered and missing indigenous women and girls in Canada, spanning the last several decades, but many feel that number is larger.”
This statistic consists of data from approximately 1980 until now. It does not even include the horrors that occurred in residential schools.
Since Trudeau’s announcement, the media has paid more attention to the issue and has published several features on the topic. Last May, Canada adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. CBC Aboriginal changed its name to CBC Indigenous in order to use a term that is more accepted by the Indigenous population. However, in the past month, most of the news articles issued about the matter have revolved around the problems the inquiry is facing before it has even taken off.
Here are some facts about the inquiry, drawn from Talaga’s most recent article on the issue, which can be accessed here.
- The chief commissioner for the inquiry is Marion Buller. She was appointed the first female Indigenous judge in British Columbia in 1994.
- The interim president for the Native Women’s Association of Canada, founded in 1974, is Francyne Joe, a well-respected advocate of Indigenous rights.
- Currently, 300 families are participating in the inquiry, but many feel this number should be much higher considering the estimated 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
- There is a budget of $53.8 million for the inquiry.
- The first public hearing in Whitehorse will start on May 29 and end on Nov. 1. Many people believe this is not enough time for justice to be served.
Joe is quoted in Talaga’s article saying, “Indigenous people, anybody, can be understanding as long as you communicate, as long as you know why it is happening and that is probably the biggest downfall of this inquiry — they don’t seem to have a plan.”
The key problems with the inquiry are being described as a lack of communication, a lack of organization pertaining to the scheduling of events and where they are being held, not enough people coming forward to participate in the inquiry, and not enough time being designated for the public hearing.
There are many reasons why families of the victims may not come forward. Those that are homeless or living in poverty may not have the resources they need to reach out, and those that do have more economic stability still face the emotional challenge of opening up about their struggles.
This infuriates me. Investigations take time. Investigations on a national scale take even more time. The task of seeking justice for the Indigenous population cannot be condensed to less than half a year. Indigenous Canadians have waited long enough. They have not sat around idly waiting for changes to happen. They have organized themselves within their communities, they have held peaceful protests on the streets, and they have reached out to officials time and time again. Yet, they have not been liberated from the oppression that plagued their ancestors. They continue to face prejudice daily.
According to the most recent information on Statistics Canada’s website from the National Household Survey, in 2011, over 1.4 million people identified as Aboriginal, representing 4.3 per cent of Canada’s population.
This number is significant. 1.4 million people are a part of a culture that has been attacked since before Canada’s confederation. 1.4 million people continue to see themselves portrayed under stereotypes that reinforce the country’s racist roots. 1.4 million people await justice to be served for their sisters, who have become bare-boned statistics that have fallen through the cracks of the nation’s consciousness.
National Aboriginal Day is on June 21. Though many people feel they have little power to help, everyone is able to become more informed, and it does not take much effort to read a few articles or watch a documentary. What does take effort is instigating real changes with real results.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Native Women’s Association of Canada
CBC: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls
Statistics Canada: Facts About Canada’s Indigenous Population
8th Fire: Aboriginal Peoples, Canada and the Way Forward
Note: I am just a student, and therefore do not have expert knowledge on this subject matter. This post aims to simply spread information and share my opinions on how more action needs to take place to help empower the Indigenous population and achieve justice for the families of victims. Please feel free to comment any corrections that need to be made to this post. I want to be more informed on the subject, as I believe understanding is key to fighting ignorance and intolerance.