In just over a month’s time, on June 3, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will release its much-anticipated final report in Gatineau, Quebec. On the same day, across the country, the world’s largest conference on gender equality–Women Deliver–will be kicking off in Vancouver, chockablock with elected officials and other VIPs from Canada and abroad.

Given the timing of the two events and Canada’s considerable efforts to position itself as a global leader on gender, we’re left to wonder: What will the Inquiry deliver to address and dismantle the ongoing colonialism and misogyny rampant here in Canada?

 

Indigenous women’s, girls, and Two-Spirit people’s lived experience, courage, resilience, agency, and strength must be the driving force behind the Inquiry’s recommendations.

 

The Inquiry’s mandate is to look into and report on the systemic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls by examining the underlying root causes, including institutional policies and practices.

As has been widely reported, the path to releasing the report hasn’t been smooth. The Inquiry officially got off the ground on August 3, 2016 with the announcement of the commissioners and its terms of reference. Not long after, it was mired in critiques about its mandate, the resignation of senior staff, and attacks on the sufficiency of its process.

The Inquiry is still in the process of trying to gain access to RCMP files as the report date draws closer. Although the final report was originally slated for release by April 30, the date was pushed to June 3.

Despite the setbacks, many of us in BC had been waiting for inquiry process that would look at the crisis of violence against Indigenous women and girls on a national scale, one that could interrogate how multi-jurisdictional actors, systems, and processes continue to fail Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people across Turtle Island (North America).

West Coast LEAF participated as a party with standing, alongside many other organizations, meaning that we attended and asked questions at several of the Inquiry’s hearings and made closing submissions in person and in writing. Final written submissions of parties with standing, are available on the Inquiry’s website and come from a variety of groups.

Photo of Inuk Elder Rebecca Veevee and Director of Litigation Raji Mangat. Raji has her arm around Elder Rebecca and is kneeling next to her. In front of them is a small ceremonial table and in front of that is a ceremonial blanket with a basket and ceremonial items placed on top of the blanket. There is a quilt hanging behind them.
Director of Litgation Raji Mangat with Inuk Elder Rebecca Veevee, who lit and is keeping the qulliq
As we look ahead to prepare for the release of the Inquiry’s final report, here is what we will be looking to see the Inquiry deliver:

A strong commitment to ensuring transparency and accountability.

Many participants in the Inquiry have argued in favour of some form of a robust independent oversight mechanism to gauge the adequacy, timeliness, and substance of governments’ responses to the Inquiry’s work.

 Proposals have included, among other ideas, the creation of an Indigenous secretariat or an ombudsperson’s office, with the authority to investigate complaints, report publicly, and work across jurisdictions. Without such a mechanism, the recommendations will offer no meaningful path forward.

 

[I]nterpersonal and systemic violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people occurs across multiple dimensions and intersections of gender, race, and insecurity.

 

Clear, practical and population-specific action plans for each recommendation framed around the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We are long past the time for mere rhetoric about nation-to-nation or reciprocal relationships. The Inquiry’s recommendations must directly engage the legitimacy of Indigenous legal and social orders.  This means recognition and action on Indigenous sovereignty. Canada’s obligation is to take a supporting, not leading, role in the development and implementation of programs and services.

Top-down policies and practices are not only ineffective; they perpetuate colonization. We must firmly shut the door on processes that purport to “bestow upon” Indigenous peoples’ inalienable human rights that are inherently possessed.

Recommendations rooted in the truths, expertise, and self-determination of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis women, girls, and Two-Spirit people from diverse communities.

Photo of an Indigenous woman with a black painted handprint across her mouth holding a sign that reads "Indigenous womxn will lead us forward." In the background you can see other people behind holding signs in the crowd.
Photo Credit: Dulcey Lima on Unsplash
The Inquiry heard from many witnesses who spoke to the ways in which interpersonal and systemic violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people occurs across multiple dimensions and intersections of gender, race, and insecurity.

Indigenous women’s, girls, and Two-Spirit people’s lived experience, courage, resilience, agency, and strength must be the driving force behind the Inquiry’s recommendations.

An onus on data-collecting institutions to disaggregate the data they collect.

It was abundantly clear in the evidence before the Inquiry that current data collection practices contribute to the erasure of Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. These practices obscure the significant differences in experience across Indigenous communities and flatten the actual, intersecting facets of experience, capabilities, and needs.

 

The work to dismantle state and settler complicity in gendered, colonial harms is needed right here in our communities.

 

Instead, meaningful data is necessary to address the root causes of violence and to provide safe, culturally-relevant, and sustainable services.

Indigenous jurisdiction over child welfare accompanied by strong supports for Indigenous families, communities, organizations, children, and youth.

At nearly every hearing, the Inquiry heard about the intergenerational and ongoing harms arising from the state’s removal of Indigenous children and youth. There are now more Indigenous children in government care than during the peak of residential schooling.

Red Women Rising, a report recently released by the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre centres the voices of Indigenous women in understanding the many ways in which BC’s child protection regime devastates Indigenous families. Far from doing no harm and supporting the “best interests of the child,” oppressive systems masked as “protection,” “welfare,” or “aid” are themselves the cause of great suffering, trauma, violence, and death.

A system premised on the view that Indigenous caregiving is harmful is nothing more than mandated racism. As one participant in the Red Women Rising report puts it, “My family is not traumatizing, it’s forced family separation that is traumatizing.” (Red Women Rising Report, I am Robin Raweater, p. 109).

Photo of a group of Indigenous women and children in traditional clothing walking in a march. A woman in a blue shirt with a walking stick, holds a sign that reads "my Moms, sisters, Aunties and Grandmas are Sacred" A little boy is holding on to the sign.
Photo Credit: Dulcey Lima on Unsplash
These are some of the recommendations and principles we hope the Inquiry will deliver in its final report.

I have some (small) hope that the Inquiry’s path to progress won’t be stymied by elected officials more interested in toasting Canada’s reputation abroad with the international community. The work to dismantle state and settler complicity in gendered, colonial harms is needed right here in our communities.

The onus lies on all of us, especially those like me, who work within and through the colonial legal system, to transform relationships with Indigenous people, communities and Nations.

Photo of an abalone smudge bowl burning sage and lavender on a wood floor
Photo Credit: Sharnelle Jenkins-Thompson

Raji Mangat is Director of Litigation at West Coast LEAF. She’s a settler born and raised in Treaty 8 territory (northern Alberta) and committed to having un-settling (in all senses of the word) conversations with her family. In her free time, she’s an aspiring potter, devotee of the public library, and super picky about pens.

Questions? Feedback? Email us at blog@westcoastleaf.org