Signa Daum Shanks is a Métis from Saskatchewan. She is an associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and director of Indigenous outreach.
On Monday, after almost three years since its establishment, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report. The inquiry – marred by delays, resignations and stumbles – has faced its fair share of public scrutiny. Despite its problems, it was a painful but necessary process, and we must take action on its findings.
You may not have known an Indigenous woman or girl who you never heard from again or whose life was ended violently.
I need to respect that. Nobody knows what they don’t know.
You still might have put a hockey stick outside your front door to pay tribute to the 16 Humboldt Broncos crash victims. You might have memories of shock over the deaths in Walkerton, Ont., in the tainted-water tragedy.
You might also have bought an inukshuk for your garden, a Morrisseau print for your living room. You have Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian on your bedside table.
We can connect to tragedies and cultures that may not be directly related to our daily lives. I need to accept these points, too.
When the inquiry has been in the news, you could have thought it was a waste of time and money. You may have thought: “Good luck in getting any politician to do anything.”
And now you hear or see news snippets about the final report and its use of the word “genocide” as a way to describe the violence against Indigenous people. And about a push for revisions to the Criminal Code. And it all just seems so, well, exhausting.
All of these points I can understand.
But stop and think, right now, about your girlfriend, your daughter, your neighbour. What would happen each holiday if you still hadn’t heard anything about them? What if you had a memory of law enforcement saying, “I bet she’s just partying,” and not doing anything right away, which is the pivotal time to start a search? Would you wonder what they might be like today if only they were still with you? What would every Christmas be like without them? What would happen to you every time you saw someone else with a woman who is the age of the person who has disappeared or experienced horrific treatment leading to death or assault?
Now. Again. I ask: What do you think of the inquiry?
Numerically (an RCMP report found 1,181 cases of homicides and disappearances involving Indigenous women between 1980 and 2012), the inquiry’s reason for existing is horrific. We must also come to terms with the racism around these cases and how long it took to finally make the inquiry a reality.
As you think of your hockey stick outside your door, of water that couldn’t be used by people in Southern Ontario, of how quickly inquiries have been created for other issues, I want you to face the matter of admitting how society has failed to treat the disappeared and murdered as people.
Debating whether the final report’s use of the word “genocide” is justified is a cop-out, and lets society get away with not doing more to realize what problems have led to the inquiry’s need to be invented at all. What we should focus on is what we can do today to stop the racism and the indifference. Moving forward means reframing our thoughts and accepting that, although we may not be sure about all the details, we need to use the report to guide us.
The inquiry’s 231 “calls for justice” are within our legal system’s realms. The research is deep, well organized and usable for all of us now. The commission’s ideas of how to reach so many different sectors of society are profound and compare to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
I don’t know how many ways I might or might not have thought a commission should function. I also can’t comprehend the best way to organize and then present findings. And, yes, I would bet that I will find some imperfections in what the commission did.
But what I can say is that this report is calling our bluff on the progress we say has happened with Indigenous reconciliation. When we think of deaths, when we think of only taking what we want from cultures at our pleasure and then not accepting the seriousness of hard times and tragedy, we are simply reinforcing long-standing themes about how Indigeneity is embraced only when it is convenient for Canada.
As you think about all you’ve learned about Indigenous circles and the injustices, maybe you can also take a moment of compassion and recognize every missing Indigenous person as a good, worthwhile person that deserves our love and our remembering.