Canada’s federal election campaign has ignored Indigenous issues. And that is a shame, because all Canadians should be outraged over the interim appointment of a non-Indigenous man as the executive director of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Secretariat.
In this day and age, after all this country has been through – from the discovery of now thousands of children who died at residential schools to Canada’s awakening to the genocidal policies of its past – how could this still be happening? Has anyone learned anything?
And how is it that, two years since the MMIWG national inquiry’s final report released its 231 comprehensive, well-explained Calls for Justice, the government of Canada can’t even get one of the very first ones right?
“We call upon all governments, and in particular Indigenous governments and Indigenous representative organizations, to take urgent and special measures to ensure that Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are represented in governance and that their political rights are respected and upheld,” the report reads. It also calls for implementation that includes the “perspective and participation” of Indigenous women and girls with lived experience, including the families of the missing and murdered and survivors of violence.
The federal government’s implementation of a national action plan on MMIWG “in partnership” with Indigenous peoples was delayed by a year, and is now slowly limping along, even as Indigenous women and girls continue to die or disappear. So imagine the surprise of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC)’s CEO, Lynn Groulx, when she received an e-mail on Aug. 12, from the MMIWG Secretariat’s executive director – a non-Indigenous civil servant named Bruno Steinke – about briefing the group about a MMIWG funding announcement that would be made by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett in Winnipeg a few hours later.
This was the first time Ms. Groulx had heard of Mr. Steinke’s appointment to the high-profile position, or even that the Secretariat had been assembled; she had to contact a senior assistant deputy minister in the department to even know that it had 20 staff members. It’s little wonder that any bit of good faith left in the process evaporated for her. “No head’s up, no nothing,” she said. “That was a shock.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada told me that Mr. Steinke was not holding the position “on a permanent basis.” But while he may be a wildly qualified Ottawa senior bureaucrat, he is not an Indigenous woman. If the position matters, why wouldn’t a qualified First Nations, Métis or Inuit woman be appointed, even if temporarily? A few months ago, RoseAnne Archibald was elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and Mary Simon was appointed as Governor-General, points out Ms. Groulx; amid such strides forward for Indigenous women, Mr. Steinke should not have been appointed to the role.
This appointment is a lesson in the tone-deafness of a government that seems to simply not care about the lives of Indigenous women, or listen to Indigenous communities. What burns even more is that Ms. Bennett would have known and had to have approved this appointment; it occurred before the writ was drawn. She received the MMIWG report. How could she let this happen?
When asked about the appointment, the Ministry responded defensively, noting that a “Senior Assistant Deputy Minister who is Indigenous” had led the work for the past several years, and that another Indigenous person held “the lead federal role on the Core Working group that assisted in co-ordinating the National Action Plan.”
But while the ministry noted that the 2021 federal budget “provided funding to formally establish the Secretariat,” Ms. Groulx and NWAC have been doing the work on the ground, helping vulnerable women with little support from Ottawa. Indeed, they haven’t had their core funding renewed, and Ms. Groulx says she can’t help but feel it’s an act of retaliation for NWAC’s decision in June to split with the federal government on its national action plan and to pursue its own. If Ottawa is withholding funding over their differences, as Ms. Groulx feels, this would be a small-minded, divisive tactic that does nothing to ensure everyone is working in the best interest of MMIWG survivors and families.
A decolonized approach is the only approach that can be taken around a national strategy on how to bring basic human rights to Indigenous women. Nothing about us, without us. And Canadians should be livid that their government, which spent $92-million on the national inquiry, seems to have missed that core takeaway completely. They should make that anger clear at the ballot box.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.