Indigenous

These families are threatening to boycott the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women

As delays and confusion plague the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, one group of families is threatening to boycott the nascent inquiry.

One organization of families, calling itself Our Creator’s Way Traditional Inquiry, has developed as a grassroots initiative in opposition to the national inquiry. The grassroots group has moved to establish an alternative inquiry, offering a traditional approach to the process that focuses on cultural safety.

“The bureaucratic process is an impediment to the process of speaking our whole truth and seeking restorative justice,” said John Fox Wikwemikong First Nation, whose daughter, Cheyenne Fox, was raped and murdered in Toronto in 2013.

“The way it looks now is like a court system.”

The bureaucratic limbo of the national inquiry has come under criticism from families calling for a more trauma-informed approach after experiencing bad communication, confusion, and delays with the way that the inquiry has unfolded so far.

“We take full responsibility for our poor communication strategy with the public and families.”

Another family member, Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, said the inquiry process is reminiscent of the residential school settlement investigation, with a bureaucratic structure involving survivors meeting with adjudicators.

Families go through a screening process before the inquiry will investigate further, a process which has left them feeling like no one is listening to their concerns.

“There’s only 200 or 300 families registered now, but well over 1,200 families [are] affected. They don’t trust what’s going on,” said Fox.

“Our families are not ready to proceed with how it is.”

The grassroots organization contends that the national inquiry has been constructed with a colonial approach that perpetuates a state of intergenerational cultural genocide and cultural warfare, which re-victimizes survivors.

“We want to take a Indigenous de-colonized approach to this work that will do no further harm.”

Chief Commissioner Marion Buller, who heads up the national inquiry, defended the inquiry’s work to journalists on Friday — but she admitted mistakes had been made.

“I want to tell the families and the survivors that we have been working very hard to build a good foundation to move forward with the inquiry,” Buller said.

“We take full responsibility for our poor communication strategy with the public and families.”

Buller remains confident in meeting the November 1 deadline for the first report.

“I want to start this quickly, and to be very honest with you we could have rolled out a Western, legal-based, courtroom-like inquiry months ago… we’re not doing it that way. We want to take a Indigenous de-colonized approach to this work that will do no further harm,” she said.

“When someone goes missing from the settler nations, the response is different then if they’re Indigenous.”

Our Creator’s Way Traditional Inquiry also seeks to look at the cases of missing and murdered indigenous men and boys as well mentioning the recent death of Josiah Beggs in Thunder Bay, citing police incompetence in their investigation.

Early calls to establish the national inquiry were focused on exposing and addressing why so many cases involving Indigenous women went unsolved, and addressing any racism rooted into Canada’s police services. Even as the inquiry rolled on, there was confusion as to the real number of Indigenous women who had been murdered or gone missing — whether the number is closer to 1,000, as the RCMP reported; or as high as 4,000, as Indigenous groups have argued.

“When someone goes missing from the settler nations, the response is different then if they’re Indigenous.” said Wabano-Iahtail holding back tears.

Our Creator’s Way Traditional Inquiry is not the first grassroots movement to develop. A community-led database called It Starts with Us has been documenting the deaths and disappearances of indigenous women in Canada, launched before the national inquiry began.


 

Cover: Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtai tears up as she holds her daughter's memorial ribbon dress as as Shirley Gunner stands in the background while speaking to reporters about issues regarding the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

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