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Calls for justice ‘incumbent on every Canadian’ following missing and murdered Indigenous women report

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie, attend the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau on June 3, 2019.
Women hold signs during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, June 3, 2019. - CHRIS WATTIE

Chief commissioner Marion Buller was clear during her address Monday at the closing ceremony for the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. 

“This is genocide,” she told a packed room at the Museum of History in Gatineau, an inescapable conclusion based on the evidence heard by the commission. 

Marion Buller, chief commissioner  of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The national inquiry released its final report Monday, after nearly three years of hearings and evidence gathering. The occasion was marked by a solemn, four-hour ceremony that included song and dance, speeches from commissioners, elders and others, and ended with a performance of the Mi’kmaq honour song. Many attendees wore red in memory of the staggering number of Indigenous victims of violence. 

Entitled “Reclaiming Power and Place,” the report compiles information gathered during coast-to-coast hearings and testimony from more than 2,000 family members, survivors of violence, and experts and delivers 231 individual calls for action in the areas of health, security, justice and culture directed at governments, institutions, industries, and Canadians. 

These calls for justice include establishing a National Indigenous and Human Rights Ombudsperson and a National Indigenous and Human Rights Tribunal; developing and implementing a National Action Plan to ensure equitable access to employment, housing, education, safety, and health care; providing long-term funding for education programs and awareness campaigns related to violence prevention and prohibiting the apprehension of children on the basis of poverty and cultural bias. 

A copy of the report was handed to representatives of each province and territory during Monday’s ceremony. 

Paradigm shift needed 

The key findings of the report centered around the decades of assimilation and “genocidal government laws” that have led to high rates of violence against Indignenous women. 

“Canada is a settler colonial country. European nations, followed by the new government of “Canada,” imposed its own laws, institutions, and cultures on Indigenous Peoples while occupying their lands,” the report’s executive summary reads. 

“Racist colonial attitudes justified Canada’s policies of assimilation, which sought to eliminate First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples as distinct Peoples and communities.” 

Colonial violence, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, has become embedded in everyday life, the report says, whether through interpersonal forms of violence, through institutions like the health-care system and the justice system, or in the laws, policies and structures of Canadian society. 

The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an “appalling apathy” to addressing the issue. 

This, the inquiry report states, amounts to genocide. 

"There are calls in the report for Canadians, there are calls in the report for the resource sector, there are calls in the report for all sectors that impact the lives of women and so it’s up to each and every Canadian to take this on."
-Valerie Courtois

In his own address, over calls of “genocide” from attendees, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted to avoid use of the term to describe the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls perpetuated by decades of government-orchestrated trauma. He promised to continue to de-colonize Canada’s existing structures and work to end the racism, sexism, and economic inequality that has allowed these crimes to take place. 

“You have my word that my government will turn the inquiry’s calls for justice into real, meaningful, Indigenous-led action,” he said. 

One of the reports key findings was that the Indian Act creates marginalization, displacement and isolation and exposes First Nations women and girls to more violence. 

An “absolute paradigm shift” is needed to disable colonialism in Canadian society, Buller said.

“The Canadian government prevents Indigenous women and their families from having the autonomy to earn a moderate livelihood and achieve their own safety and security,” wrote Halifax Mi’kmaq woman Rebecca Moore in a foreword for the report. “Until Indigenous women are given the power and authority to self-determine what happens within their own territories, we will always be at risk under Canada’s ‘Rule of Law.’” 

Commissioner Oajaq Robinson said rebuilding Canada into a decolonized nation required a new relationship and an equal partnership between all Canadians and Indigenous peoples. 

'This is history'

Cheryl Maloney is a political science professor at Cape Breton University and founding president of the Eastern Door Indigenous Women’s Association, which was heavily involved in the inquiry process. 

She said she saw the stories shares from families in the Atlantic region well reflected in the final report. 

“The reality that's in that report is a Canadian truth,” she said. 

Going forward, Maloney said the challenge is not just ensuring Indigenous women and girls are kept safe but also valued and empowered. 

Valerie Courtois an Innu woman living in Happy Valley-Goose Bay was one of the emcees of Monday’s ceremony, an opportunity she said was honoured and humbled to be offered. 

Courtois said the calls for justice are incumbent every single Canadian, no matter their origin. 

“The only way that there is going to be action from this is if we don't just depend on our governments. There are calls in the report for Canadians, there are calls in the report for the resource sector, there are calls in the report for all sectors that impact the lives of women and so it’s up to each and every Canadian to take this on,” she said. 

“This is time for action.” 

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