Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada
"Canada must put an end to its perennial pattern of violence against and oppression of Indigenous peoples."
The genocide against Indignous people in Canada has been found to exist and it was enabled by colonial structures and policies maintained over centuries until the present day and it constitutes a root cause of the violence currently being perpetrated against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (*) people in Canada.
Thousands of Indigenous women and girls were murdered or disappeared across the country in recent decades are victims of a “Canadian genocide,” says the final report of the CDN$92M national inquiry created to probe the ongoing tragedy.
Reclaiming Power and Place
The National Inquiry’s Final Report reveals that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The two volume report calls for transformative legal and social changes to resolve the crisis that has devastated Indigenous communities across the country.
The Final Report is comprised of the truths of more than 2,380 family members, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers shared over two years of cross-country public hearings and evidence gathering. It delivers 231 individual Calls for Justice directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians.
As documented in the Final Report, testimony from family members and survivors of violence spoke about a surrounding context marked by multigenerational and intergenerational trauma and marginalization in the form of poverty, insecure housing or homelessness and barriers to education, employment, health care and cultural support. Experts and Knowledge Keepers spoke to specific colonial and patriarchal policies that displaced women from their traditional roles in communities and governance and diminished their status in society, leaving them vulnerable to violence.
Supplementary report: Quebec
The National Inquiry is simultaneously releasing a report specific to Quebec in order to give particular attention to the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls in that province. The report outlines specific issues such as language barriers, health and social services provide by religious congregations and interaction with Indigenous and provincial police forces.
Final Report Volume 1b
Executive Summary – Inuktitut
Calls for Justice
Supplementary Report – Quebec
Supplementary Report – Genocide
News Release – Final Report
A New Framework
Section 1 of the report, made up of Chapters 1-4, sets up the overall context that will be helpful for readers in approaching the information presented in the later sections of the report. In Section 1, we talk about the role of relationships, human and Indigenous rights, the history of colonization, and how each of these contexts can inform our understanding of the issue of violence against First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
Chapter 1: Centring Relationships to End Violence
Chapter 2: Indigenous Recognitions of Power and Place
Chapter 3: Emphasizing Accountability through Human Rights Tools
Chapter 4: Colonization as Gendered Oppression
Right to Culture
The history of colonization has altered Inuit, First Nations, and Métis Peoples’ relationships to their culture and identity through targeted policies designed to sever their cultural and kin connections. These attacks on culture, which include residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and other assimilatory policies, are the starting points for other forms of violence Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people experience today.
Right to Health
Colonial violence directed toward cultural practice, family, and community creates conditions that increase the likelihood of other forms of violence, including interpersonal violence, through its distinct impacts on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of Inuit, First Nations, and Métis Peoples. In sharing stories about the health issues they or their missing or murdered loved ones faced and the experiences they had in seeking health services, family members and survivors illustrated how addressing violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people must also address their right to health.
Right to Security
First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people live with an almost constant threat to their physical, emotional, economic, social, and cultural security. As families, survivors, and others shared their truths with the National Inquiry, it became clear that, for the majority of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people living in all settings and regions, security is a key area where violence against Indigenous women and girls can and should be addressed.
Right to Justice
While there are many facets to understanding the experiences of Métis, First Nations, and Inuit women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people and the justice system, this chapter focuses most closely on the experiences of the families of missing and murdered loved ones. We also look at what survivors of violence told us about their experiences with police, the court system, and the correctional system. These encounters highlight crucial disconnections between Indigenous people and justice systems that compromise their basic right to justice.
Forensic Document Review Project
Overwhelmingly, the families who testified before the National Inquiry were seeking answers to perceived flaws in the investigations into the loss of their loved ones.
They discussed many ways in which they felt that police services had failed in their duty to properly investigate the crimes committed against them or their loved ones, leading ultimately to a failure to obtain closure and justice within the existing system. In response, the National Inquiry established the Forensic Document Review Project (FDRP), consisting of two teams conducting a review of police and other related institutional files. One team examined files of the Province of Quebec; the second group examined police files in all other provinces and territories throughout the rest of Canada. In this summary, when we refer to the FDRP, we are referring specifically to this second group. Information and recommendations of the Quebec FDRP are located in the Supplementary Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls devoted to Quebec. The purpose of the FDRP was to identify potential systemic barriers or problems and areas of weakness relating to the protection of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and to make recommendations to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls about the systemic causes of their disappearances and deaths.
During the course of the project, the Forensic Document Review Project (FDRP), which was tasked with examining files outside of Quebec, obtained and reviewed 174 files and 35 previous reports and studies on policing related to Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and analyzed publicly available information related to those files.
The population of Canada is 37 million, there are 31,000 reported disappearances of adults each year with most cases solved within a day or a week. About 10% of the cases remain unsolved or as unknown cause - about 3,100 a year in 37 million Canadians overall.
Canada's recognized population of Indigenous People is about 1.7 million. Canada has embarked now on a immigration policy that will see 1 million immigrants being allowed into Canada in 2019 alone. They are settled mainly in Provinces with a higher percentage of aboriginal people and political calculations (immigrants tend to vote for TPTB) appear to be the main reason.
While the number of Indigenous women and girls alone, who have gone missing, is estimated to exceed 4,000 in over 30 years, the report admits that no firm numbers can ever be established.
However, and more importantly, the actus reus of genocide refers to the objective elements of the definition and comprises two elements: (a) the existence of a protected group, against whom (b) prohibited conduct, asenumerated in the definition (e.g. killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm) is directed.
CONCLUSION: These prohibited conducts, which match one or more of the prohibited acts within the definition of genocide, coupled with the specific intent to destroy, leads the National Inquiry to conclude that there are serious reasons to believe that Canada is responsible for committing genocide against Indigenous peoples.
Canada has breached its international obligations through a series of actions and omissions taken as a whole, and this breach will persist as long as genocidal acts continue to occur and destructive policies are maintained. Under international law, Canada has a duty to redress the harm it caused and to provide restitution, compensation and satisfaction to Indigenous peoples. But first and foremost, Canada’s violation of one of the most fundamental rules of international law necessitates an obligation of cessation: Canada must put an end to its perennial pattern of violence against and oppression of Indigenous peoples.
(*) 2SLGBTQQIA = 2-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual. Such determination gets a bit out of hand to the extent of becoming ridiculous - IT IS HUMANS AND IT IS PEOPLE.
All humans in their unique individuality are equal and must be equal before state law, whereby Indigenous peoples have additional rights based on UNDRIP or hold sovereign rights in unceeded territories and designated First Nation states.
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Longer-term aftercare services are available through Indigenous Services Canada from now until 2020. Services include counselling and cultural support services for survivors, family members and those affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. More information is available at the Aftercare Services Page.
Thank you, Merci, Miigwetch and Nakurmiik
"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada
By Jennifer Brant - 22. March 2017 - last edited 05. July 2019Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada (MMIWG) refers to a human rights crisis that has only recently become a topic of discussion within national media. Indigenous women and communities, women’s groups and international organizations have long called for action into the high and disproportionate rates of violence and the appalling numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Prior to the launch of the national public inquiry on 8 December 2015, these calls were continually ignored by the federal government. Described by some as a hidden crisis, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, refers to MMIWG as a national tragedy and a national shame. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada supported the call for a national public inquiry into the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous women and girls. The National Inquiry’s Final Report was completed and presented to the public on 3 June 2019.
Mihkwakanihkan was a 2014 Aboriginal Arts and Stories contest winner. In this work, artist Mandy Littlechild tries to "capture a feeling of loneliness and melancholy," representative of "a string of suicides and many cases of domestic violence [towards] Aboriginal women" in her community, and "how [these issues have]...a psychological effect on everyone in some way." To learn more about Mandy Littlechild and her art, please visit the website of Aboriginal Arts and Stories.
Art installation at Seaforth Peace Park in Vancouver, BC, inspired by Métis artist Jaime Black's REDress Project. The red dresses symbolize the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
The Missing and Murdered: Statistics and Demographics
There is a lot of disagreement about the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) acknowledged in a 2014 report that there have been more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women between 1980 and 2012. Indigenous women’s groups, however, document the number of missing and murdered to be over 4,000. The confusion about the numbers has to do with the under-reporting of violence against Indigenous women and girls and the lack of an effective database, as well as the failure to identify such cases by ethnicity (See Indigenous Women’s Issues).
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has drawn attention to figures from Statistics Canada documenting high rates of violence against Indigenous women. For example, Indigenous women 15 years and older were 3.5 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women, according to the 2004 General Social Survey. Violence against Indigenous women and girls is not only more frequent but also more severe. Between 1997 and 2000, the homicide rate for Indigenous women was nearly seven times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous women.
The demographics give a sense of the extent of the violence that Indigenous women and girls face across this country, but they fail to tell the stories of the deep trauma that this violence has on entire communities or the stories of children who have lost their mothers to senseless violence. The statistics cannot reflect the experiences of the families and communities who have lost a loved one. The missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls were mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, cousins and grandmothers. Many were students completing post-secondary education, such as Loretta Saunders, an Inuk woman murdered at age 26 in 2014, who was completing her honours thesis on this very issue at the time she went missing. Some were only children, such as 14-year-old Azraya Acakabee Kokopenace and 15-year-old Tina Fontaine — who were both in the child welfare system at the time — or 16-year-old Delaine Copenace. This ongoing tragedy affects all Indigenous women and girls from all walks of life and throughout many communities and cities across Canada. Although some perpetrators are known to the victim, many are strangers.
Art installation honouring and raising awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada (Winnipeg, 2013).
Historical Context: Colonialism, Racism and the Sexualization of Women
Nick Printup, director and producer of the documentary Our Sisters in Spirit (2015), stated in a 2016 interview that “to begin to understand the severity of the tragedy facing Indigenous women today you must first understand the history.” The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada is as old as the development of Canada itself and must be understood within the historical context of settler colonialism that has led to the ongoing racialization and sexualization of Indigenous women. Historically, Indigenous women were sexualized and held against dangerous cultural attitudes and stereotypes that permeate many facets of Canadian society today.
The late Mohawk poet Tekahionwake (E. Pauline Johnson) wrote about these stereotypes 125 years ago. In an essay entitled “A Strong Race Opinion: On The Indian Girl in Modern Fiction,” which was originally published in the Toronto Sunday Globe on 22 May 1892, Johnson spoke out about the images of the “ Indian squaw” that were presented in mainstream literature. Similarly, in her book, Iskwewak — Kah’Ki Yaw Ni Wahkomakanak: Neither Indian Princesses nor Easy Squaws (1995), author Janice Acoose also drew attention to the racialized and sexualized legacy of settler colonialism that has led to an acceptance of violence. As Acoose noted, these colonial attitudes have justified many of the legally sanctioned policies that have targeted Indigenous women and families, such as the Indian Act and residential schools. Other examples include the pass system (a process by which Indian agents approved passes for First Nations people to leave the reserve for whatever reason) and forced sterilization (see Eugenics). These policies severely limited Indigenous women’s livelihood by severing community ties and preventing Indigenous women’s access to community resources and safety networks. Colonial attitudes also justified the mass removal of Indigenous children through policies of state apprehension, such as the Sixties Scoop, and this continues today in what is now referred to as the “Millennium Scoop.” Violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada today cannot be understood without first examining the effects of Canada’s deep history of settler colonialism on Indigenous families and communities.
Amnesty International: A Call to Action
In October 2004, Amnesty International released a report called Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada, in response to the appalling number of Indigenous women who are victims of racialized and sexualized violence. This report was positioned as a call for action. Amnesty highlighted the stories of nine women, including Helen Betty Osborne (a Cree woman abducted and killed at the age of 19 by four white men in The Pas, Manitoba, in 1971) and her 16-year-old cousin Felicia Solomon, whose remains were found in the Red River in 2003. Amnesty shared some stories of the missing and murdered to bring clarity to the severity of the violence faced by Indigenous women. The report also noted a lack of comprehensive reporting and statistical analysis, and called for more police accountability, stating that Indigenous women are both overpoliced and under protected. Amnesty documented the social and economic marginalization of Indigenous women, noting that racism, poverty and marginalization, along with a lack of police protection, heighten Indigenous women’s vulnerability to violence.
Tragically, since 2004, the numbers have continued to rise. Five years after the initial report, Amnesty International released No More Stolen Sisters: The Need for a Comprehensive Response to Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada. This report highlighted the following five key issues as reasons for the continued national tragedy of violence against Indigenous women:
- The role of racism and misogyny in perpetuating violence against Indigenous women
- Sharp disparities in the fulfilment of Indigenous women’s economic, social, political and cultural rights
- The continued disruption of Indigenous societies caused by the historic and ongoing mass removal of children from Indigenous families and communities
- Disproportionately high numbers of Indigenous women in Canadian prisons, many of whom are themselves the victims of violence and abuse
- Inadequate police response to violence against Indigenous women as illustrated by the handling of missing persons cases
In 2014, Amnesty presented a report to the Special Parliamentary Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women entitled Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada: A Summary of Amnesty International’s Concerns and Call to Action. This submission urged the federal government of Canada to take immediate action through a comprehensive approach to addressing violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
Amnesty International has been instrumental in the push to launch a national public inquiry alongside Indigenous communities, women’s groups and grassroots movements.
Native Women’s Association of Canada: Sisters in Spirit Initiative
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) secured funds in 2005 from Status of Women Canada to research and provide awareness about violence against Indigenous women. With this funding, the Sisters in Spirit Initiative was launched. NWAC also developed a national database to track cases of violence against Indigenous women. Their work culminated in a final report entitled What Their Stories Tell Us: Research Findings from the Sisters in Spirit Initiative.
The report includes a framework for addressing and preventing violence against Indigenous women along with the stories of missing Indigenous women and recommendations for policy development. NWAC’s prevention and safety policy includes tools for educating young Indigenous women and girls on safety issues and looks at risk factors that make Indigenous women vulnerable to violence, including poverty, homelessness and lack of affordable housing (See also Social Conditions of Indigenous Peoples and Economic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples).
The need for police accountability and transparency, cultural sensitivity training and forming good relationships with Indigenous communities are other key areas highlighted in the report. NWAC also expressed a need for more research and awareness about various forms of violence, particularly violence perpetrated by strangers or acquaintances. The need for improvements in tracking and identifying cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women was another key area identified in the report. NWAC articulated that the violence experienced by Indigenous women is much higher than reported in government statistics and police-collected data. The report noted that about six out of ten incidents of violent crimes against Indigenous people go unreported and that demographic information is not always collected (See also Demography of Indigenous Peoples).
The Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women
The Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women (LSC) was formed in 2014 following the murder of Inuk student Loretta Saunders. The coalition is a Canada-wide advocacy group that supports a national inquiry and seeks to bring justice to the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women. In February 2015, the LSC released a report in which it argued that over 700 recommendations made in 58 reports on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have been largely ignored by police and government.
RCMP Reports on Violence against Indigenous Women
In 2013, the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) called for a report on missing and murdered Indigenous women to help guide operational planning. In May 2014, the RCMP released Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview. This report documented a total of 1,181 people — 164 missing Indigenous women and 1,017 Indigenous female homicide victims between 1980 and 2012. An updated report was released in 2015, entitled Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: 2015 Update to the National Operational Overview. This update documented an additional 11 Indigenous women identified as missing since the 2014 overview was conducted.
Prior to these reports, the RCMP’s investigations of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls had included a stretch of British Columbia’s Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears. While the RCMP acknowledges 18 murders and disappearances (mostly of Indigenous women and girls) in its list of Highway of Tears cases, dating from 1969 to 2006, Indigenous groups argue that this number is misleading because it reflects only the disappearances and murders that have happened in a specific geographic area, and that the real number in northern British Columbia exceeds 40.
Critique of RCMP Reports
Groups including Amnesty International and the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence against Indigenous Women (LSC) critiqued the RCMP report for having critical gaps in the data. Amnesty noted that the 2015 update only included cases within the RCMP’s own jurisdiction. Over 300 non-RCMP police agencies were included in the original 2014 report, but these were excluded from the update. According to Amnesty International, this means that missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Ontario and Québec, for example, were not included in the update. This is concerning given the mistrust and violence that has historically characterized Indigenous-police relationships. In the fall of 2015, eight officers from the Sûreté du Québec were suspended as a result of 14 allegations of abuse of power, sexual assault and other forms of assault against Indigenous women.
The LSC criticized the 2015 report for highlighting intimate partner violence as a risk factor, which places blame on Indigenous men and communities while failing to point out that many of the perpetrators are acquaintances or strangers.
Response from the Federal Government
Despite the ongoing push from Indigenous women and communities and human rights groups such as Amnesty International, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, Human Rights Watch and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the federal government continued to dismiss the need to launch a national public inquiry. In fact, former prime minister Stephen Harper, speaking at Yukon College in Whitehorse in August 2014, following the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine — who was killed after she left her foster home — stated that violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada should not be viewed as “sociological phenomenon.” In other words, the Fontaine case was not part of a larger crisis resulting from a variety of racial, sexual and colonial abuses or socio-economic issues. Several months later, on 17 December 2014, during an interview with CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, Stephen Harper stated that a national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women wasn’t “really high on [the government’s] radar.”
Following the change in government in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the government of Canada launched a national public inquiry.
National Public Inquiry
Justin Trudeau gives a speech on missing and murdered Indigenous women in front of Parliament in Ottawa (October 2016).
On 8 December 2015, the Government of Canada announced plans for the launch of an independent national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The government pledged $53.86 million over the course of two years for the inquiry, and held a “pre-inquiry” to seek input from stakeholders across Canada. The inquiry was officially launched in September 2016. From the outset, the commission of inquiry was scheduled to provide a final report by 1 November 2018, outlining its findings and recommendations for steps forward.
The first step of the investigation was a pre-inquiry process, which took place between December 2015 and February 2016. The goal was to receive input from groups including family members, Indigenous communities and front-line workers about the scope and structure of the inquiry. This process aligns with the inquiry’s commitment to focus on the well-being of Indigenous families and to ensure the process is culturally appropriate. A summary of the feedback from the pre-inquiry process was published in May 2016. It included four recommendations:
- The inquiry’s leadership must be transparent, independent and representative of the Indigenous population. It was also recommended that Indigenous women should lead the inquiry. The investigation itself must be “sensitive to the needs of survivors, families and loved ones. Efforts must be made to avoid a long, drawn-out and legal process”
- The inquiry must address various points of view and must hear from as many people and organizations as possible
- A “broad approach to [the inquiry’s] analysis of the issues” is important. The inquiry must take into consideration — and recommend solutions to — all of the socio-economic, cultural and political causes of violence against Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirited people. (See also Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada )
- The inquiry must provide various forms of support to families and their allies. This includes ceremonies, spiritual support, mental health counselling and community support
Based on these findings, the government appointed five commissioners to lead the inquiry: Marion Buller (chief commissioner, member of the Mistawasis First Nation and first Indigenous woman appointed to British Columbia’s provincial court bench); Michèle Audette (former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada); Brian Eyolfson (human rights lawyer); Marilyn Poitras (constitutional law expert); and Qajaq Robinson (lawyer raised in Nunavut). The inquiry also includes other staff and will likely not hear formal testimony from the families until spring 2017. Marilyn Poitras resigned as a commissioner in July 2017, stating that she is "unable to perform [her] duties as a commissioner with the process designed in its current structure.”
National Inquiry Findings
The National Inquiry officially began on 1 September 2016. It was expected to release an interim report by 1 November 2017 and a final report by 1 November 2018.
Criticisms of the Inquiry
There have been some critiques of the commission from various Indigenous groups, who say it lacks transparency, communication and inclusivity. In December 2016, the Native Women’s Association of Canada stated that the commission failed to keep families informed of its progress. In February 2017, the inquiry fired its communications director, Michael Hutchinson (of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network), causing concern that the hearing of testimony might be further delayed. While Hutchinson’s interim replacement, Sue Montgomery (of the Montreal Gazette) has said that this would not delay the inquiry, the families of the missing and murdered continued to press the commissioners for more clarity and better communication.
Some activists have also criticized the commission for failing to include missing and murdered Indigenous men, boys, trans and two-spirited people in the inquiry. In February 2017, Susan Vella, the commission’s lead counsel, said that while the inquiry is open to hearing testimony from Indigenous men and boys, its focus will remain on Indigenous women and girls. The commission also indicated that its inquiry will include groups such as two-spirited and trans people.
Prevailing Attitudes toward Indigenous Women
During an opening address at an international conference on MMIWG, writer Maria Campbell stated that “patriarchy and misogyny are so ingrained in our society that they are normal, and our silence makes them normal.” Other Indigenous women activists have referred to the lack of awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women as a “deafening silence.” The following examples demonstrate the ways stereotypes that may lead to violence against Indigenous women and girls are perpetuated and accepted within different venues throughout society. In the two cases below, Indigenous women spoke out to raise awareness about such violence.
In 2012, Mi’kmaq lawyer, activist and professor Pamela Palmater spoke out against offensive names of menu items at the Holy Chuck Restaurant. The “Half-Breed” and “Dirty Drunken Half-Breed” were the names of two hamburgers on the menu. These terms are racial slurs that have been used to perpetuate violence against Indigenous peoples.
In July 2015, two paintings appeared on a storefront window — including one depicting bound and gagged Indigenous women — during the Hospitality Days cultural festival in Bathurst, New Brunswick. Patty Musgrave, Aboriginal advisor for New Brunswick Community College, wrote to city council, expressing her outrage at the painting, which trivialized, and perhaps even glorified, violence against Indigenous women and the history of colonialism. Musgrave stated that “the building that housed these art pieces was a building in which two human beings were murdered. One a woman. These murders were never solved and … it is quite offensive that you would allow paintings to be hung in the windows of this building while still-grieving families must see this as part of your ‘Hospitality Days.’”
Activists and the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women continue to persevere against these prevailing attitudes, seeking justice, accountability, reconciliation and better public education (See also Indigenous Peoples: Political Organization and Activism).
Support and Awareness
In recent years, with the launch of the national public inquiry and more awareness about MMIWG, there has been a tremendous amount of support for Indigenous families and communities. Indigenous associations have provided political, emotional and legal support and have also been instrumental in pushing for an inquiry. Annual marches, vigils, the making of documentaries, and other awareness campaigns have brought people together with a common goal of seeking justice. The annual Women’s Memorial March, also called Their Spirits Live Within Us, has taken place every 14 February since the early 1990s. The first one was held in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, in unceded Coast Salish territories (see Indigenous Territory). The Memorial March now takes place in cities across Canada to raise awareness, promote empathy and compassion, and bring healing to families that have lost a loved one. The fourth of October is marked by Sisters in Spirit vigils that bring awareness and honour the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Events that take place on this day are supported through the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and take place in cities across Canada. Other grassroots initiatives to raise awareness include the Walking with Our Sisters Campaign and the REDress Campaign (two separate art installation projects) and the Faceless Dolls Project (an initiative of the NWAC).
Support has also come from non-Indigenous allies who have participated in vigils and awareness campaigns, as well as mainstream media, which has begun documenting and providing public education about violence against Indigenous women and girls, such as the CBC. In June 2016, it was announced that actress Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy) was working on a documentary called “Gone Missing” to help raise awareness about MMIWG.
The National Inquiry’s Final Report
On 3 June 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its Final Report titled Reclaiming Power and Place. After more than two years of testimony from Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, experts, and 1,484 survivors and family members of the missing and murdered, in addition to cross-Canada public hearings and evidence-gathering from many Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups and individuals, the Final Report was unveiled at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. Chief Commissioner Marion Buller, Commissioners Michèle Audette, Qajaq Robinson, and Brian Eyolfson, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, family and friends of the missing and murdered, as well as national and provincial Indigenous leaders gathered to release the findings of the National Inquiry to the public.
The two-volume report spanned more than 1,000 pages and contained 231 individual “Calls for Justice.” These were “legal imperatives,” not merely “recommendations,” to immediate action on behalf of Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments, institutions, social service providers, industries, and individual Canadians of all walks of life. Chief Commissioner Marion Buller declared that “Despite their different circumstances and backgrounds, all of the missing and murdered are connected by economic, social and political marginalization, racism, and misogyny woven into the fabric of Canadian society.”
In unequivocal terms, Buller condemned Canadian society for its indifference and inaction in the face of the tragedy confronting Indigenous women and girls for the past several decades: “The hard truth is that we live in a country whose laws and institutions perpetuate violations of fundamental rights, amounting to a genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] people.”
The Final Report declared that the violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people is “a national tragedy of epic proportion.” The commissioners called for a new era in relations between Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA, and the Canadian people, a relationship centred on the empowerment of Indigenous women and girls: “To put an end to this tragedy, the rightful power and place of women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people must be reinstated, which requires dismantling the structures of colonialism within Canadian society.”
Despite hundreds of pages of heartbreaking testimonials and studies revealing thousands of lives lost and families destroyed, Commissioner Qajaq Robinson wrote in a spirit of hopefulness that “Ending this genocide and rebuilding Canada into a decolonized nation requires a new relationship and an equal partnership between all Canadians and Indigenous Peoples. I hope that the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls can be a tool to do just that.” This spirit of hopefulness was echoed by Jeremiah Bosse, widower of Daleen Bosse, a woman from Onion Lake Cree Nation murdered in May 2004: “Today I feel hopeful for the first time that as victims of violence our words will be heard. The words of our lost ones are spoken! We will be there to represent them; they may be lost, but they are not forgotten!”
National Inquiry Facts
2,386 — Total number of participants in the Truth Gathering Process:
- 1,484 family members and survivors provided testimony
- 819 individuals shared through artistic expressions
- 83 experts, Knowledge Keepers and officials provided testimony
- 15 community hearings were held across Canada
- 9 Knowledge Keeper, expert and institutional hearings were held across Canada
Indigenous Perspectives Education Guide
Indigenous Peoples Collection
Canadian Inquiry Demands Justice for Genocide of Indigenous Women and Girls
“This colonialism, this discrimination, and this genocide explains the high rates of violence against indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual people]—an absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism in Canadian society,” said Marion Buller, the chief commissioner of an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada at a ceremony presenting the report. “And this paradigm shift must come from all levels of government and public institutions.”
The 1200-page report includes 231 steps that need to be taken by the government and Canadian institutions in order to end the genocide against Indigenous women and girls. It arrived after indigenous women and girls have been murdered, disappeared, gone missing, exploited, traded, and abused for decades. It has taken decades of activists calling attention to the plight of Indigenous women for the Canadian government to hold an inquiry.
“Through the persistence of these Indigenous women and families and human rights allies we got a national inquiry,” Mi'kmaq lawyer, professor, activist and politician Pamela Palmater told The Real News Network's Sharmini Peries. “It was really a long time coming—more than most people know.”
In 2015, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission report about the abuses in residential schools recommended an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. Families of victims and human rights activists also reached out to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and various United Nations human rights treaties bodies for recommendations and calls for an inquiry.
Palmater praised the report's specificity, with its 200-plus recommendations, detailing some examples of the report's suggestions: “They also came to the conclusion that the judicial system has failed to hold Canada to account. So they want to make changes to Canada's judicial system and to empower First Nations, for example, to have their own laws and their own systems and their own policing to account for what Canada's not doing. And they also came to the conclusion that one of the root causes of why we have this genocide in Canada is because Canada not only fails to uphold the basic human rights of Indigenous women and girls, but they purposely breach it.”
Despite the report's clear recommendations and strong words from Buller, its chief commissioner, who demanded involvement “from all levels of government and public institutions,” Palmater explained that promises have already been broken when it comes to reckoning with this genocide.
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had an opportunity to be a world leader here and say, 'When it comes to genocide denial is the worst thing that you can do. You need to assume responsibility take full accountability and and let the chips fall where they may and work towards healing.' He didn't do that,” Palmater said. “He stepped around it and there are people in the crowd actually yelling out while he was speaking saying, 'Say genocide, say genocide.' And he didn't do it.”
Palmater explained that all that stops Canada from acting fully on the recommendations is the Canadian government itself, which so far has not lived up to its promises.
“In terms of confidence, I have every confidence that federal provincial, territorial, and municipal governments have enough capacity, resources, and ability to implement the steps that are needed to end the genocide in Canada,” Palmater said. “But my confidence is not so high that there's the political will to do so. And the reason why I say that is because all along the government said, 'Don't worry, we're not going to wait for the final report to take action on what's happening against indigenous women and girls.' But they didn't [take action].”
CHIEF JUSTICE MARION BULLER I want to start, as I was taught by an elder in Saskatchewan, to acknowledge the spirits of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and to welcome them. The significant, persistent, and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses is hte cause of the disappearances, murders, and violence, and this is genocide.
SHARMINI PERIES And that was Chief Justice Marion Buller. She is the Chief Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The inquiry has delivered its report to the Indigenous communities, to Canadians, and the Prime Minister of Canada. The report includes 231 steps that need to be taken by the government and Canadian institutions in order to end the genocide against Indigenous women and girls according to this final report. Joining me now to discuss the report is Dr. Pamela Palmater. Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nations, currently holding the position of Chair in the Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. Pamela, good to have you here.
DR. PAMELA PALMATER Thanks for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES And I should also highlight that Pamela has a book which is called Indigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots Citizens, which is a collection of blogs she has written over time. I thank you so much for joining us today on this very special occasion.
DR. PAMELA PALMATER I’m a big fan of your show.
SHARMINI PERIES Thank you, Pamela. Pamela, the report was a long time coming. So let’s begin by giving people an orientation to the backstory here, and why and how this report came about.
DR. PAMELA PALMATER Well, I mean, the backstory really is that, you know, for decades and decades, Indigenous women and girls have been murdered, disappeared, gone missing, been exploited, traded, and abused in all sorts of ways. We have been trying to get the government’s attention to address this and they wouldn’t, literally for decades. But through the persistence of all of the families of the murder victims, and all of the Indigenous women activists, and our human rights allies, we just kept pushing. Not only in Canada, but we pushed on the international level at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at the various United Nations human rights treaties bodies, to continue to get recommendations and calls to action to have an inquiry. Finally, we had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report about the abuses in residential schools that came out in 2015. One of the recommendations there was to actually have an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. So finally, through the persistence of these Indigenous women, families, and human rights allies, we got a national inquiry. So, it was really a long time coming, more than most people know.
SHARMINI PERIES All right. Pamela, give us a sense of what it took to do this inquiry. Of course, it evoked so many memories, and so many people coming forth and having to provide testimonies of what had happened to their family members. Give us a sense of the, you know, emotional weight this has placed on the community and, of course, the experiences people went through in bringing about this report.
DR. PAMELA PALMATER Well it’s—I mean, imagine all of your worst traumas that no one has recognized for decades, all of your losses, you know, severe violence and deaths of your loved ones, and having to constantly relive that, and relive that just to get to this point of having an inquiry. Then, to have to share that with an inquiry for the purposes of trying to get justice. It was extremely hard on many of the family members, on all of the communities that are impacted, and even the leaders had a hard time with the sheer number of it. I don’t think many people realize just how widespread this was. And so, you have a scenario where many of the very same people who went through the trauma of residential schools, or they’re families of those who were died or murdered in residential schools, they had to go through that for the truth and reconciliation commission for that report. Some of them are of the very same families who also came forward for this. So, it really speaks to the strength, resilience, and determination of all of these indigenous families who, despite their own trauma and pain, really put justice for their lost loved ones ahead of all of that, and continued to participate in this so that all Canadians would know, but more important than awareness, so that governments would be held to account and be forced to take action.
SHARMINI PERIES All right. Now, Pamela, this report was obviously written with 230 recommendations, steps to be taken by the government and its institutions to correct the wrongs that have taken place for so long now. In that vein, the report was actually presented to Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada. Let’s listen to his response to being presented with the report.
PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU The work of the commissioners, the stories they have collected, and the calls for justice they have put forward, will not be placed on a shelf to collect dust. I know— [crowd applauds] I know, and you know that we need to fix the way things work in this country.
SHARMINI PERIES All right. Pamela, your confidence in the government to carry out the recommendations that have been made? I know, very eloquently, the report calls it “steps” that need to be taken. Tell us about why that terminology was chosen and then, of course, whether you have any confidence that this government will address the issues identified in those steps.
DR. PAMELA PALMATER Well, in terms of confidence, I have every confidence that federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments have enough capacity, resources, and ability to implement the steps that are needed to end the genocide in Canada, but my confidence is not so high that there’s the political will to do so. The reason why I say that is because all along the government said, don’t worry. We’re not going to wait for the final report to take action on what’s happening against Indigenous women and girls, but they didn’t. Here’s the other sign that’s really, really troubling. So, the Truth and Reconciliation Report concluded that what happened in residential schools and indeed other policies in Canada, were in fact genocide. This report did not only hear from the families, hear all the testimonies, they heard from expert witnesses and then they did their own independent legal analysis and research on whether what happened in Canada was genocide. And they said, undoubtedly, their legal finding in fact was that it was genocide.
As you know, state perpetrators of genocide around the world rarely ever admit that a genocide has occurred and they’re literally, dragged, you know, they’re taken kicking and screaming to accountability forums until they’re forced to account for what they’ve done. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had an opportunity to be a world leader here and say, when it comes to genocide, denial is the worst thing that you can do. You need to assume responsibility, take full accountability, and let the chips fall where they may, and work towards healing. He didn’t do that. He stepped around it and there were people in the crowd actually yelling out while he was speaking saying, “say genocide, say genocide,” and he didn’t do it. So, he didn’t take the steps to show that Canada is different from other world leaders that have engaged in genocide. That worries me about whether Canada has the political will to do the substantive work, not the cherry picking on the outside with the easy recommendations, but the real hard work of ending genocide in Canada.
SHARMINI PERIES All right. Let’s talk a little bit about the sweeping recommendations that the panel made in this report. Give us some highlights of what that looks like.
DR. PAMELA PALMATER Well, what I really like about this report is that they tie their findings to the recommendations in a very, very specific way. So, for example, you know they’re finding about genocide. You know, they also came to the conclusion that the judicial system has failed to hold Canada to account. They want to make changes to Canada’s judicial system and to empower First Nations; for example, to have their own laws, their own systems, and their own policing to account for what Canada’s not doing. They also came to the conclusion that one of the root causes of why we have this genocide in Canada is because Canada not only fails to uphold the basic human rights of Indigenous women and girls, but they purposely breach it so state actors— like police officials who engage in sexualized violence against Indigenous women and girls, or participate in human trafficking, child porn rings, all of those things. State actors involved in it, haven’t been held to account.
So, one of their recommendations is, of course, that not only domestic human rights be upheld for Indigenous women and girls, but all of the international mechanisms that Canada has signed onto, and that moving forward, it has to be on a human rights framework. That is completely significant and then there’s ones that, you know, you would think, why haven’t they done this before? They said another one of the root causes is the sex discrimination in the Indian Act that excludes Indigenous women and children from membership in their home communities. This entitles them to treaty rights and critical social programs. They’re saying, you need to get rid of sex discrimination in the Indian Act. Well, that should be a no-brainer because Canada has, like, hundreds of equality laws, human rights laws, multiculturalism policies, sex equality— except for Indigenous women and girls, so they have an opportunity. They could literally change that law tomorrow. That would be an easy thing to do. It’s a no-brainer thing to do, but Canada’s been very resistant even to take those small steps to address the crisis. But what I like about the report is that they tie their findings to these recommendations and show, you know, even though this is comprehensive and large-scale, there’s lots of things we can do in a staged approach.
SHARMINI PERIES All right. Now, speaking of a staged approach, I know when these kinds of reports come out, there’s a lot of fanfare and recognition and so on, even in Justin Trudeau’s words there. He says it will not be swept under the carpet or gathering dust, he says. Now, my experience of having done the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System in Canada, and I served as the Executive Director, the report was shelved. Nobody took a look at it, you know, years later. I think it might be in some law libraries, but that’s about it. [laughs] So, Pamela, how do you plan to actually do further education, take this report on the road? I know you’re speaking at UBC today right after this interview, but we have to keep it alive. How do you plan to do that?
DR. PAMELA PALMATER Well, I mean, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I mean, every other commission and inquiry we’ve had before, be it large-scale or local, the recommendations sit there. They gather. We now have thousands of recommendations. And like I said before, the governments, if they even look at it at all, cherry pick around the outside for the easy things to do— superficial, not substantive. And so, what we’re saying is, you know, let’s use what got us to this point to force Canada to move forward and actually implement these recommendations. So, keep up with the public education. Keep up with the international pressure. We really do think that, you know, the international voice is extremely important in all of this. And so, we need to break it up into pieces that make it easier for both Canadians to understand and support us, but also, the younger generation.
I mean, part of my plan is to continue to use things like YouTube, blogs, podcasting, and community-based events to really talk about, here’s what everybody can do to force governments, to put pressure on governments, to make sure that this stops because we’re not even talking about a historical event, and that’s another misunderstanding. We’re not talking about a genocide from 200 years ago. We’re talking about ongoing, so all of the lives of these women and girls are still very much at risk, and we need to act now. I think the main message is, the reason why it was so important to call it genocide is because we need a national emergency-coordinated action plan to address it at that same level. And so, we’re hoping, you know, with this election coming up, that all parties will make that a focus of their platforms going forward, and that Canadians won’t let them do anything but be held accountable.
SHARMINI PERIES And, Pamela, we’ll certainly play our role as the media in keeping that alive and keeping the recommendations of this report very much on the surface. We’d love to have you back to do that, so thank you so much for joining us today.
DR. PAMELA PALMATER Thank you. The media is an important partner.
SHARMINI PERIES And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.
UPDATE 21. 06. 2019: Across the border in the USA:
Feds Show Up Unprepared For Hearing On Murdered And Missing Native Women
Justice Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials couldn't take a position on any of the Senate bills addressing this crisis.
Maggie de Vries, Missing Sarah: A Memoir of Loss (2003).
A. Brenda Anderson, Wendee Kubik and Mary Rucklos Hampton, eds. Torn from our Midst: Voices of Grief, Healing and Action from the Missing Indigenous Women Conference, 2008 (2010).
Emmanuelle Walter, Stolen Sisters: The Story of Two Missing Girls, Their Families and How Canada Has Failed Indigenous Women (2015).
D. Memee Lavell-Harvard and Jennifer Brant, Forever Loved: Exposing the Hidden Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada (2016).
National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Website has the National Inquiry’s two-volume report, the “Supplementary report” for Quebec, news releases, and videos)