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Marion Buller is chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Families first.

That is the approach of the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Families and survivors are deeply invested in the success of the inquiry. And we are equally invested and committed to families who have lost loved ones and those who are survivors of violence.

Admittedly, the national inquiry has experienced a number of setbacks that played out publicly; however, it has made important progress on several fronts, which needs to be acknowledged.

Increasingly over time, families and survivors are courageously participating in large numbers with the hope of making a real difference. To date, more than 1,000 witnesses have shared their personal stories of loss, pain and heartache at hearings across the country. They have contributed valuable recommendations for meaningful changes. About 700 more people are registered to add their truths and recommendations to the public record.

Registration for families and survivors concluded on April 20 but we will reach out to them to hear their stories and receive their truths. Our statement gatherers will continue this important work and engage with as many families and survivors as time permits to take their statements and receive their recommendations. We will not stop until we are compelled to stop to begin to write our final report.

In addition to collecting this crucial testimony, during the current mandate, the national inquiry plans to undertake important research and hold hearings on racism, police practices, human rights and government services.

Indigenous leaders and grassroots activists, who fought for decades for a formal inquiry, knew at the outset that two years was simply insufficient to fulfil the ambitious mandate set out by the government and to uncover real answers to the staggering levels of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls in this country. Policing, child welfare, systems of justice and social services could each be the subject of a public inquiry in their own right. But they are not. These and other crucial matters are all rolled into the mandate of the inquiry.

Many commissions of inquiry over the years needed extensions to get across the finish line, so ours is not an unusual request of the government. For example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was given an extension and it took seven years to complete its work.

Should the national inquiry be forced to wrap up without the adequate time and resources to do the job correctly, families and survivors who participated stand not only to be disappointed, but potentially revictimized in the process. But there’s even more at stake. Time is needed to do the work required to make robust and meaningful recommendations for systemic changes and improvement. If we don’t develop the solutions needed to address this ongoing tragedy in our communities, it is the next generation of daughters, granddaughters and nieces who will continue to pay an unconscionable price.

Indigenous women in Canada report rates of violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault, that are 3.5 times higher than non-Indigenous women. Young Indigenous women are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die as a result of violence.

Yet many Canadians have little knowledge of the injustices, violence and abuse experienced by Indigenous women. We must continue to shine a bright light on these hard truths. Ultimately, Canada must be moved to address the underlying root and systemic causes of Indigenous women and girls going missing or dying. The national inquiry cannot be expected to do it alone, nor do we want to do it in a superficial manner.

There is still significant work needed in critical areas of research and forensic investigation. Further hearings on topics such as the justice system, sexual exploitation, health care and addiction services are required. The government has made strong statements about its commitment to this issue and the importance of the national inquiry completing its work. It is now up to the government to honour commitments made, make the right decision and grant the extension.

We need “all hands on deck” to meet the ongoing challenges, to continue and conclude the essential work that needs to be done. It is time for Indigenous organizations and governments, families, survivors, communities and Canadians from coast to coast to coast to come together once again on this critical issue that affects all of us.

Quite simply, we all have a responsibility to ensure the national inquiry’s success in uncovering the truth. In doing so, we will properly honour the memories of Indigenous women and girls who were taken from us. We will help families and survivors on their paths to healing. And we will build a safer and brighter future for all women and girls.

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