SASKATOON – It is hoped to set the tone for what will be a massive transformation across the country. On Wednesday, a meeting was held at the Radisson Hotel in Saskatoon that will help shape a national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The pre-inquiry design process involved hearing from survivors, families and those who lost a loved one. The media were asked not to attend the discussions as individuals shared their stories and their pain.
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Inside the consultation process was Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, a Saskatoon-based activist, who told media the meeting helped humanize families.
“There was a lot tears, there was a lot of anguish, “she said.
“There was a lot of first time families speaking, it took a lot of courage and vulnerability to share really personal tragic stories.”
The first-hand accounts were sought as part of an engagement process in advance of the national MMIW inquiry, a pursuit of justice that began in Ottawa on Dec. 11, 2015 and will end there on Feb. 15.
“In order to achieve justice you need to understand and feel injustice,” said Jody Wilson-Raybould, minister of justice and attorney general of Canada.
“More than ever we have heard messages of inequality and messages that indigenous peoples and indigenous women don’t matter.”
The sentiment was echoed by the minister of indigenous and northern affairs, Carolyn Bennett, one of three federal ministers leading this task.
“There is a on-going feeling that their lives have no value, it’s not valued by the police, it’s not valued by the justice system, it’s not even valued by getting an autopsy in a timely manner such that you could bury your loved one in keeping with traditional values.”
It’s a Canadian tragedy the ministers say they want to find solutions to by setting the scope of the inquiry first. They have vowed to involve and engage families every step of the way.
“There is a fundamental need to ensure that the framework that we put in place for this inquiry provides a measure of justice to the families and honours the murdered and the missing and ensure that this tragedy stops,” added Wilson-Raybould.
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So just how will the ministers know if the inquiry design meetings have been successful?
“When the commission is launched if the families can feel they’ve been properly listened to and they can see their fingerprints on the blueprint of the inquiry we will feel we’ve done well, we know we won’t be able to please everybody but they need to know they were heard,” said Bennett.
A start to the healing process and a commitment that Canada can and will do better.
Summaries of all the meetings will be posted on the government’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls website.
So far, summaries for seven meetings have been made available to the public, three other meetings remain. The final stops on the cross-country tour include Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa with survivors, family members or loved ones asked to email or call toll-free at 1-877-535-7309 if they would like to attend.