Extension of national inquiry opposed by Cywink family

Sonya Cywink

BIRCH ISLAND—It has been 24 years since Sonya Nadine Mae Cywink went missing from her London home and was found dead at the Southwold Earthworks in Elgin County, but the hurt and trauma felt by her family has not diminished over the intervening years and the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) has in many ways refreshed those old wounds for her family. News of the request to the federal government for a two-year extension to their mandate, made by the inquiry, has many in the family fuming. They oppose the extension.

Sonya’s sister Maggie Cywink made it clear to The Expositor that she was speaking strictly as a family member and on behalf of her family, an important distinction as Ms. Cywink is currently employed by the Ontario Attorney General’s office in a liaison capacity dealing with the issues surrounding MMIWG. She in no way purported to be speaking in that capacity and carefully advised that she was only speaking as a family member of one of the MMIWGT2S (the extended version of the group of Indigenous people that includes the two-spirited, and transgendered, those with different gender identities than they were labelled with at birth). “It is a difficult challenge balancing between my job and my family members,” she said. Her position as a special advisor can be extremely delicate.

“I was one of the writers of the letter (see page 5 letters section, an open letter to Carolyn Bennett),” she acknowledged. The letter Ms. Cywink references is backed by more than 200 family members of the missing and murdered, as well as the gay and transgendered Indigenous peoples who have been persecuted, murdered or simply disappeared without a trace.

While the open letter covers a number of issues, the impetus behind opposition to the extension of the MMIWG inquiry is fairly straightforward.

In addition to prolonging the suffering and trauma being experienced by families during the inquiry process, Ms. Cywink points out that throwing another $53 million at the issue would, in the opinion of herself, her family and a significant number of the relatives of the MMIWGT2S largely be a waste of money.

“There have been countless inquiries and commissions, literally hundreds of reports that have already been done,” she said. “That money would be better spent following through on the recommendations contained in those earlier studies.” By tackling the underlying issues that have already been long identified, the numbers of MMIWGT2S being murdered or going missing could stop climbing.

Ms. Cywink said that she dismisses the claims by the prime minister and Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolynn Bennett that they must remain at arms length from the inquiry commission. “They appointed the commissioners,” she said. “They are involved every step of the way. Saying otherwise is just a convenient copout.”

Ms. Cywink, and the other families co-writing the letter do not believe that their voices are being heard. Previous letters the families have sent to the prime minister and the minister of Indian Affairs have remained unanswered, without even an acknowledgement of their receipt.

The families do not call for the shut down of the inquiry, unlike some other voices in the Indigenous communities. “No, we just want them to be held to their timeline,” she said. “They should take what they have gathered and do their reports. If they need more time to do those reports, fine, give it to them.” She would prefer the inquiry report in September of 2018. Delays inherent in another two years of hearings are unconscionable, she said. “Who is going to be there to pick up the pieces? How are they going to help the families?”

“Stop putting families in harm’s way,” Ms. Cywink said, alleging that the safeguards in place for traumatized family members fall far short of what is needed.”

As to what the government should do instead, Ms. Cywink noted that “we gave them lots of options in our letters.”

Their solution for a next step would be to take the $53.8 million or so that would be applied to an inquiry extension and put it use implementing the recommendations and reconciliation.

“That’s the bottom line,” she said.

Family of Shelley Joseph:

Aileen Joseph, Mohawk, Wolf Clan, Six Nations Grand River Territory, mother of Shelley Joseph

Sheena Joseph, Mohawk, Wolf Clan, Six Nations Grand River Territory, daughter of Shelley Joseph

Alexa Joseph, Six Nations, Tuscarora Wolf Clan, granddaughter of Shelly Joseph

Gavin Joseph, Six Nations, Tuscarora Wolf Clan, grandson of Shelly Joseph


Family of Paula Joy Martin:

Chasity Martin, Turtle Clan Six Nations, niece; Randy Martin, Six Nations, brother; Karen Locke, Six Nations, sister; Chad Martin, Six Nations, nephew; Randee Joy Martin, Six Nations, niece; Bradley Kenneth Hill, Six Nations, son; Krystal Gayle Martin, Six Nations, niece; Chaley Elizabeth Martin, Six Nations, great-niece; Chase Everett Martin, Six Nations, great-nephew; Josie Nepinak, family member and executive director of Awo Taan Healing Lodge


Family of Tashina General: Denise General, Cayuga Nation, Wolf Clan, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, mother of Tashina General; Madison General, brother; Mel General, grandfather; Kelly General, aunt; Chad General, uncle; Scott General, uncle; Tara General, aunt; Eric Hill, friend; Beverley Jacobs, Kanienkehaka, Bear Clan, lawyer, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Cousin of Tashina General


Family of Sonya Nadine Mae Cywink, MMIWGT2S:

Maggie Cywink, sister; Alex Cywink, brother, Anastasia Cywink, sister; O. Naomi Abotossaway, sister; Scott Madahbee, nephew; Jordi Jacko, nephew; Lee Jacko, nephew; Wyatt Jacko, nephew; Len Riley, nephew; Mark Abotossaway, nephew; Ozzy Madahbee, brother-in-law; Tom Wopperer, brother-in-law; friends and loved ones of Sonya Nadine Mae Cywink, Laura Heidenheim, Emma Heidenheim, Linda Heidenheim, Eric Heidenheim, Adam Gualiteri, Melissa Gonzalez, Antonietta Emmanuel, Joshua Howe, Michael Rebellato, Josephine Tse, Shanna McCutcheon, Tate Brombal, Candice Ing, Asia Aoki, Sarah, MacGregor, Rejeanne Allaire, K. Fran Davis, Six Nations member


Elaine Belanger-Ostergaard, mother of Brenda Wolfe

Danielle Ewenin, Kawacatoose First Nation

Lillian Ewenin, Kawacatoose First Nation


Family of Hylena Rivera:

Linda John, mother; Jillian Isaacs, sister; Renee Hess, grandmother; Karen John, maternal auntie; Rhonda Powless, maternal auntie


Family of Charity Keesic:

Leona Davis, mother; Josh Keesic, brother; Vincent Keesic, brother; Tyrese Keesic, son


Joyce Carpenter, momma of Patricia Carpenter (Trish)


Bridget Tolley, daughter of Gladys Tolley


Families of Sisters In Spirit (FSIS)


Family of Rose Blackned:

Silas Blackned, son, Cynthia Blackned, sister


Maxine Goforth, mother of Kelly Goforth; Ruth ScalpLock, Siksika Nation


Sheila North Wilson, grand chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak


Ava Hill, chief, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory


Cathy L. Clause, Six Nations, WWOSSN Committee Member


Terri Monture, Staff Representative, Canadian Media Guild. Mohawk, Six Nations of the Grand River. Childhood friend of Shelley Joseph.


Joanne Dubois, Six Nations, WWOSSN Committee Member


Lori Harris, Six Nations, Mohawk Bear Clan, WWOSSN Committee Member


Family of Tanya Hill:

Kristen Hill, Six Nations; Sonya Hill, Six Nations; Rhonda Hill-Maracle, Six Nations, mother;

Kiana Hill, Six Nations; Kale Lee Hill, Six Nations; Gwen Styres, Six Nations, aunt; Crystal Styres, Six Nations, Shaylin Styres, Six Nations; Michael Cooper, Six Nations; Derek Williams, Six Nations; Joe Maracle, Six Nations; Joe Maracle Jr., Six Nations; Leroy Hill, Six Nations; Arlene Hill, Six Nations;

Alex Kedoh Hill, Six Nations


Family of Josephine Thompson:

Amelia H. Thompson, niece


Family of Josephine Chakasim:

Rachel Chakasim, sister; Amelia H. Thompson, niece


Mary Gagnon, sister of Germaine Gagnon


Family of Pauline (Wesley) Louttit:

Joanne Louttit, daughter, Attiwapiskat; Ray Louttit, Attiwapiskat


Family of Simone Sanderson:

Betty-ann Sanderson, grandmother; Oliver Sanderson, grandfather


Laura OoChoo, daughter of Elsie Marie Oochoo


Lenny Genereaux, nephew of Vivian Cada


Family of Jennifer Catcheway:

Bernice Catcheway, mother; Wilfred Catcheway, father;


Laura LaCrosse, daughter of Deborah Sloss-Clarke


Family of Pamela Holopainen:

Vanessa Brousseau, sister; Renee Holopainen, cousin


Family of Adeline Legarde:

Wanda Legarde, daughter; Juliette Legarde, daughter


Family of Shirley and Dawn Ashawasega:

Elwood Ashawasega, son and brother; Tammy Ashawasega, daughter and sister


Family Members of Katherine Loone:

Alice Loone, mother; Stacey Scott, sister; Sabrina Loone, sister; Christine Ashamock, sister; Derek Loone, brother


Family of Elaine Vawn LaForme:

Lynn LaForme, sister; Jessica LaForme, niece; Diane Johnson, sister; Linda White, brother; Barry LaForme, brother; Glen LaForme, brother; Nadine LaForme, niece; Joshua LaForme, nephew; Norma White, niece; Tosha Yellow, niece; Shawn LaForme, Richard LaForme


Krista Shore, Nehiyaw Iswewak- Peepeekisis First Nation, daughter of Barbara Ann Shore


Staci Duchene-Six Nations, Mohawk. Family member and advocate for MMIWG


Isaac Murdoch, Serpent River First Nation, family member, activist


Alex Wilson, Idle No More, Opaskwayak Cree Nation


Sarah Hunt, Kwagu’ł (Kwakwaka’wakw) scholar, activist, relation


Natalie Clark, scholar, activist Indigenous girls group facilitator and violence counsellor


Jeffery McNeil, Thompson Rivers University


Maria Campbell, author, community activist


Julie Kaye, community-based researcher, University of Saskatchewan


Muriel Stanley Venne, president and founder of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women


Ellen Gabriel, Kanehsatà:ke Kanien’kehá:ka Nation and Indigenous Human rights activist


Christi Belcourt, advocate/mom/daughter, Espanola


Audrey Huntley, No More Silence


Alison C. Recollet-Simon, Bear Clan, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory


Colleen Dell, University of Saskatchewan


Callie Cochrane, Métis Lawyer


Arlene Sams, Edmonton

Nellie Carlson, Indian Rights for Indian Women


Family of Shelley May Anderson:

Myrna Anderson, mother; Judith Anderson, sister; Keith Anderson, brother;


Melanie Dene, cousin of Shelly Tannis Dene


Vivian (Tootsie) Tuccaro, mother of Amber Alyssa Tuccaro


Family of Renee Neganiwina:

Darlene Neganiwina, mother; Lenny Genereux, cousin


Family of Bella Laboucan-McLean:

Billy Joe Laboucan, father; Sharla Peltier, friend; Stan Peltier, friend



Mary-Annie Blackned, sister of Rose Blackned


Family of Deborah Sloss-Clarke:

Mary Lou Smoke, sister; Dan Smoke, brother-in-law


Maggie Cywink, family of Melissa Maureen Nicholson


Family of Delaine Corrina Copenace:

Anita Ross, mom; Dayna Copenace, twin sister; Darian Copenace, sister; Lori-Delaney Copenace, sister; Aires Delaine Christopher Blackhawk, nephew


Family and Friends of Delaine Copenace:

Floranda Kootenay, family member, Stoney Nakoda; M. Mickilus, L.M. Laramie-Belcourt, family member, looking for Kathleen Noah


Elaine V. Antone, survivor


Ms. Denise Aquash, aunt of Katrina Kiyosh


Family and Friends Supporters of Sonya Nadine Mae Cywink:

Tammy Madahbee, niece; Madison Madahbee, great nephew; Nancy Cooper, friend; Kathy Roque – friend; John McCauley, friend; Kimmy Moody-Bosse, friend; Chantal Perrault-Diehl, supporter; Andrea Cessna, supporter; Lance Copegog, deputy youth chief of the Beausoleil First Nation Youth Council


Pamela Palmater – Mi’kmaq, Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University


Stolen Sisters & Brothers Awareness Movement


Odelle Pike, Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network


Thohahente Kim Weaver, Turtle Clan, Kanièn’kehà:ka, from Kenhtéke


Chris Cutler, Supporter of MMIWG


Deron Ahsén:nase Douglas – Bear Clan, Kahnawà:ke Kanien’kehá:ka Nation


Robert Gendron, ally, Treaty 1, Metis Homeland


Katherine McCarthy, Mi’kmaq, sister and friend


WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre


Michael Mantha, MPP critic Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation


Billy Mersasty


Diane Osawamick


Eriel Deranger, executive director, Indigenous Climate Action


Stephen Stewart, friend and supporter


John Clarke, Organizer, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty


Vanessa Watts, Six Nations of the Grand River