By James Turner, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Some families of missing and murdered indigenous women remain uncertain if they should take part in a national inquiry aimed at examining the violence in their communities, according to a group representing them.
Representatives of the Manitoba Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition said a meeting Saturday to talk over the responses from inquiry staff to major questions have failed to produce clear answers.
The group has raised concerns about the inquiry process and how traumatized families and survivors will be treated.
Coalition co-chair Hilda Anderson-Pyrz said these people need to be confident that it will be worthwhile for them to get involved.
“They need to give reassurance their voices will be heard in a good way and a meaningful way,” Anderson-Pyrz said following the four-hour-long, closed-door meeting in Winnipeg’s North End.
A major worry among the families is that the inquiry, announced by the federal government in December 2015, will be conducted within a framework that doesn’t account for indigenous ways and traditions, said Sandra DeLaronde, also a coalition co-chair.
“If we let the inquiry go on its own, it will completely be in a legal tradition,” said DeLaronde. “It’s the only chance we’re going to get, and if it’s not done right, we’ve lost the opportunity.”
More than 30 people attended the meeting, according to attendee Sue Caribou, who has seen several of her relatives murdered and others go missing.
“We’re still in the dark,” Caribou said.
The coalition sent 43 questions to inquiry officials after an earlier meeting with the inquiry’s commissioners in Winnipeg.
That meeting came a few weeks after the inquiry postponed a series of regional advisory meetings supposed to help determine what issues should be covered when formal hearings get underway.
A copy of the questions and responses was supplied to The Canadian Press by people who attended Saturday’s meeting.
One question was whether the inquiry’s five commissioners and staff will receive “trauma informed” training. No one from the inquiry’s “health team” at the May 4 meeting assisted a family member who broke down and left, the coalition said in the document.
The coalition also asked how the inquiry will reach families and survivors in Canada’s isolated or northern communities and those who don’t use social media.
Inquiry officials responded that commissioners, directors and most of the staff will be trained in June 2017. They responded the inquiry is still working on an outreach strategy which may include “posters, podcasts on local radio stations.”
The inquiry is to complete its work and wrap up by December 2018, and the document says it is planning to do its work within the existing timeframe and budget.
Sheila North Wilson, the grand chief of an organization advocating for northern Manitoba First Nations, said it may not be enough time to get the job done in a meaningful way.
“The biggest need, immediately, that I see is we need to provide better resources and opportunities for our women and girls and families because ultimately that’s what leads to what happens,” she said.
“Women become vulnerable, people that take advantage of vulnerability have their way and then become victims of this issue.”