Peterborough-Nogojiwanong Community Members Respond to National Inquiry

Mrs. Universe 2015 and Cree model and activist Ashley Callingbull poses for the Sacred MMIWG / FFADA sacrées campaign, "I'm a Change Maker. Are you?" Photo by Nadya Kwandibens, via Sacred MMIWG / FFADA sacrées on Facebook.

The Canadian National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) delivered their final report on June 3, 2019. The report, Reclaiming Power and Place, spans two volumes and over 1000 pages, and outlines 231 “calls to justice.” The report concludes a nearly three-year inquiry, which saw participation from more than 2380 people across the country.

The alarming rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people and lack of police and government action has been an ongoing concern for individuals, communities and organizations alike for decades. A 2013 RCMP report confirming at least 1181 cases of MMIWG in Canada caused increased national pressure for the government to take action. In December 2015 the Liberal federal government fulfilled a campaign promise by finally announcing the establishment of a National Inquiry into MMIWG.

The national inquiry began on September 1, 2016 and closed on June 30, 2019. Participants from across the country included family members and survivors of violence, as well as expert witnesses, elders, knowledge keepers, front-line workers and officials ‒ all invited to share their truths about experiences of violence inflicted upon Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

This systemic tragedy has affected people from coast to coast, and Peterborough is no exception. Arthur reached out to some community members to gain a local perspective on this national injustice.

Maryam Monsef, Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Peterborough and the Kawarthas, and Canadian Minister of both Gender and Equality and International Development, said in a statement obtained by Arthur, “This national tragedy has affected people right across the country. We cannot and will not allow them to be forgotten.”

She shared the Government of Canada’s desire “to support families and survivors on their journeys of healing by creating awareness and ensuring their daughters, sisters, mothers or friends are not forgotten.”

Monsef expressed the Liberal government’s intention to “continue to build our relationship with Indigenous peoples,” and to work with other governments to develop a national action plan. According to Monsef, that plan must be “developed in partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis governments and organizations, as well as with the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and also the survivors.” She concluded by declaring “we remember our stolen sisters, and vow that – nation to nation – we will end this tragedy.”

Monsef echoed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vow to implement a national action plan, as the final report called for. This statement comes after Trudeau announced that his government accepts the finding of genocide ‒ although unfortunately Monsef did not comment on this.

Since the release of Reclaiming Power and Place, much of the conversation has centred on the controversial use of the term “genocide” to describe the crisis. The term was applied with great scrutiny, having the foremost sub-section of the introduction solely dedicated to defining and justifying its suitability. Despite this, there has been a contentious national debate surrounding the propriety of its use.

Clifford Crowchild survives his mother, Jacqueline Crazybull (killed in 2007), and poses for the Sacred MMIWG / FFADA sacrées campaign, “I’m a Change Maker. Are you?” Photo by Nadya Kwandibens, via Sacred MMIWG / FFADA sacrées on Facebook.

Arthur spoke with Alice Williams, Chair of the Kawartha Truth and Reconciliation Support Group (KTRSG) at her home in Curve Lake, accompanied by friend and fellow Curve Lake resident, Claudia Irons. When asked about the report, Williams voiced concern that it had been sidetracked by focusing on whether to call this calamity a genocide. Williams and Irons discussed how the genocide pertains particularly to Northern communities as a means for the Canadian government to obtain land and resources.

Williams declared, “Now if that isn’t genocide, I don’t care what the definitions are – they want to get rid of us; we’re in their way.”

Asked about the extent to which Reclaiming Power and Place acknowledges the causes of this genocide, Williams clarified that she does not see the true root causes explicitly addressed. She asserts that the root cause is that Canadian dominant culture is a Christian, patriarchal, colonial and capitalist society, which “has never liked women.”

Both Williams and Irons agreed that they are happy this issue has been brought to light as a result of the National Inquiry, though Williams asked, “What can they do about it when it’s systemic? It is systemic. Even the police.”

Williams admitted, “I don’t have [faith] that it’s going to change anything.”

Violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people affects individuals in our communities to a great extent, as Irons said, “Everybody’s afraid… It’s a real thing. To go somewhere, it’s in your head that you might not come back.”

Williams added, “There’s been Curve Lake women… And there’s this shame in that also. You think you’re the only one that had, a sister for example, that was raped and murdered and mutilated. And you don’t want to tell the world about that, and so you don’t talk about it, and nobody knows about it.”

Violence against women is a systemic issue in Canada, but Williams argues that the focus on “‘violence against women’ doesn’t address what’s been done to [Indigenous] men.”

She explained, “Our men have been just as killed! They have been treated so terribly by the system. So terribly… I have male cousins who have been killed by the police.”

Her concern is shared by others across the country. Some advocates cite Statistics Canada data, which reports that 71 percent of murdered Indigenous Canadians between 1982 and 2011 were male. The family of a missing Indigenous man from Winnipeg has launched the Necktie campaign to honour and call attention to missing and murdered Indigenous men, inspired by the MMIWG Red Ribbon and Red Dress campaigns.

The National Inquiry highlighted the safety of Indigenous women and girls during resource extraction projects as an especially important issue. Reclaiming Power and Place stated that “resource extraction can lead to increased violence against Indigenous women.”

Resource extraction can also be a direct form of violence against Indigenous peoples. Anishinaabe teachings “equate us women [to] the great Mother Earth,” Williams explained, “Look at how those men have torn up the earth and they blow up the earth. And that’s how they treat their women.”

“Like Claudia said, that in Anishinaabeg it’s in our DNA, it’s in our bones, it’s in our marrow, it’s in our heart – this oneness with the land. This living a good life on this land. That’s still with us today, us Indians. And that superiority of white people is still with them. It’s still with them.”

In a statement to Arthur, Angela Connors, the Coordinator of Community Race Relations Peterborough (CRRC), stressed that this Inquiry has been a long time in the making. Connors echoed Williams’ sentiments that, “For a country founded on genocide this damning indictment should come as no surprise… You can argue about the accuracy of the term [genocide] or let it crystallize for you the urgency of the Calls for Justice.”

Connors explained that “genocide is born of racism… racism [which] is central to Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people.” She asserted that racism is “the essential tool of colonialism, the silent and often hidden weapon used against Indigenous people.”

Looking to the future, Connors advised that “the only way to fight against [racism] is to bring it out in the open, call it what it is and force Canadians to deal with it. We need to do more than talk… It will take genuine commitment and action.”

While the National Inquiry into MMIWG has come to a close, the hard work has just begun. It is time to wake up and ensure that our governments and institutions act on the 231 calls to justice outlined in Reclaiming Power and Place. To further educate yourself and find out how you can do your part, read the Final Report, see the CBC’s Missing and Murdered interactive feature, and engage with the Inquiry’s public awareness campaign: “I’m a Change Maker. Are You?”.

Sarah Birmingham survives her mother, Ann Birmingham (killed 1986), and poses for the Sacred MMIWG / FFADA sacrees campaign, “I’m a Change Maker. Are you?” with an Inuktitut translation. Photo by Nadya Kwandibens via Sacred MMIWG / FFADA sacrées on Facebook.
About Sadie Kotze 1 Article
Sadie Kotze is in her third year at Trent, pursuing a joint-major BAH in Gender & Women's Studies and Political Studies. She enjoys writing about social, political and environmental justice. She loves dogs, the outdoors, soccer, snowboarding and cooking. (She/her/they/them).