Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls families call for inquiry reset

Manitoulin MMIWG family member delivers a plea from the grassroots

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following speech was tied with a symbolic red cloth and hand delivered to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by Maggie Cywink on behalf of the families of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on October 4 on Parliament Hill. It is printed here at the author’s request.

There are so many families that would like to be here today to speak with you, to share their reflections and their knowledge.

I, Maggie Cywink am honoured to speak as a family member.

The death of my sister, Sonya Nadine Mae has changed the landscape, the narrative of my life; it continues to alter my world view. The sense of crisis and violence pervades the very lands of my ancestors. Let us work together to rebuild the trust within our families and communities. It is one of the ways forward.

But I also want to give this space to so many voices that are not able to be here. Families are not being heard and are asking Canadians to listen today.

So many families, communities, and survivors have lost all faith in this National Inquiry and we need you, PM Trudeau, to listen to us today and to work with us to rebuild a relationship. We need you to hear us and to fulfil your promise to honour the spirits of our MMIWGT2S.

Families have asked:

“when will the PM take this seriously … instead of false promises toward the families? I totally lost faith in his words about the Inquiry … I am heartbroken.”

“You made commitments. Stick to them.”

“Live by your campaign promises … an inquiry means nothing if done in the wrong way with no family input. We are the experts.”

“[stop keeping] us from being in control [and having a say] in what is rightfully ours.”

“Our missing and murdered is not being taken seriously.”

“My family is still suffering day after day … we would love some help. [We don’t hear from the Inquiry and we are left with no supports].”

“This Inquiry is an embarrassment to all Canadians and the world.”

By not having good relations with families and communities, the Inquiry continues to perpetuate harm and overlook simple, yet important realities.

Families and survivors have said:

“I still haven’t heard back from anyone from the inquiry and I was told they’d follow up. Nothing. [Again and again. Nothing]”

“Families have been delegated a passive role, and used as numbers. The inquiry is placing people in harms way, it is causing crisis and harm in our communities.”

“No one from National Inquiry has called or contacted us. [They take the information and leave] with no aftercare. This is not trauma informed.”

“[This is] tokenism.”

“[Our nation] has not heard from the Inquiry in spite of multiple requests to engage with them. We have 15 MMIW in our community alone.”

“The NI isn’t about the Commissioners. Its about the MMIWGT2S, the families, and the survivors.  … [Nothing is being done] in relation to reaching out to survivors – to our women and girls who have survived and are still trying to survive – situations of violence. They are an important part of the work the NI is supposed to do. Yet how are they being involved? I would say they are not.”

“The silence on prairies weighs heavy … not many people or elders even know about the NI. And the ones who do know and have tried to connect with the NI, have had no luck in getting any response despite trying to reach out to them.”

“Do right by the families, actually listen as a person …  Not for a photo op or a way to gain popularity.”

“If you want to be remembered as the PM who is healing ties with first nations, then you must start with our women and families.”

“This is a critical moment in our history and your legacy will be assessed to the degree to which you successfully respond to the pressing issues of the day. So I ask: 100 years from now, will you be looked at as the PM who changed the course of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people … or will you be seen as yet another politician, in the very long list of politicians, who simply peddled in the age-old craft of empty promises?”

Families and survivors have given you a way forward:

“Reset the inquiry. Stop causing harm with an institutional colonial set of commissioners that [continue to] cause more harm than good when they go visit families.”

A hard reset does not mean the Inquiry will end. It will continue and all information collected as part of the process will be honoured. No information or testimony from the hearings will be lost. In no way is a hard reset a dismantling of the National Inquiry.

A hard-reset is what families have requested to restructure this Inquiry to get it right; to build it with families and communities at its center and to grow it from a place of trust.

Such a reset requires time for healing, ceremony, and the much-needed supports that should have been available to families and communities from the outset to enable communities to organize, heal, and build the Inquiry.

With supports, the Inquiry will be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with the appointment of Commissioners that are recommended by families of MMIWGT2S. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own Indigenous decision making institutions” (Article 13). This Inquiry has failed to follow human rights protocols in honouring the families’ recommendations for the appointments of its Commissioners.

Far too much damage has been done to communities by the current Commissioners and too much time has lapsed in ignoring community voices for the current commissioners to rebuild trust.

As families and survivors have said:

“many will ask, ‘what assurance do we have that a new process won’t be similarly flawed?’ We have no expectations of an easy road ahead for this Inquiry. But we only have this historical moment to get the Inquiry right and it must be set out on a straight path, rooted in ceremony, community, and led by families and relations of MMIWGT2S.”

“…Indigenous women, close to the grassroots must be involved in the process … [it will continue to fail being run from this] paternal or colonial patriarchy. If the inquiry is to be successful, Indigenous women must be involved. Somehow, the inquiry is not reaching the families… [it needs to] visit key communities and listening to [people at the] grassroots in their languages. Most of the time, it’s there where the voices need to be heard …”

“The families of MMIW should be taken seriously to bring healing for the families and communities.”

“We need information for families and survivors – this needs to be the focus.”

“Know and understand that there are many parts to this. Non-indigenous people would never have this many complex issues bundled under one title. We MUST have inclusive processes developed from our cultures and traditions. We must have elders and ceremony that celebrate our histories, our contributions and our strengths. Seeing our families as people needing to be studied and examined must stop.”

“[The Inquiry must include real supports for families and survivors]. We need long term funding for family gatherings for healing now.”

“[We need an actual examination of policing and our justice system. Listen to families when they tell you] there are serious problems with the justice system.”

“Have  love for our people and the ones who have traveled on over the years.”

“Give the Inquiry back to the people who raised the issue in the first place, the ones who made it a national election issue. The MMIW families and survivors. If [you would] like to see the results all of us would like to see, a productive meaningful National Inquiry, reset it and drop the lead Commissioner who has steered the process in a way that’s isolating families not bringing them back together.”

“No matter how [you] try to keep killing us off, it’s never going to happen.”

“Justice for [all our families, survivors of violence, the children of our missing and murdered loved ones and all the generations incredible Indigenous women, girls, trans, and 2-spirit to come].”

Prime Minister Trudeau, we are asking you today to give us back our Inquiry and to immediately put in place a National Plan of Action that includes supports for healing and community-led responses.

Maggie Cywink

Whitefish River First Nation