The four-member inquiry that was tasked with uncovering the systemic reasons for the disproportionate number of murders and disappearances of Indigenous women concludes that a genocide is taking place in Canada and a cultural “paradigm shift” is needed to end the violence.
The National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is preparing, after nearly three years of information gathering and analysis, to release its findings on Monday in a report called Reclaiming Power and Place. A copy of the 1,200-page document was leaked to a number of Canadian media outlets, including The Globe and Mail.
Chief among its findings is that the violence being perpetrated against the First Nations, Inuit and Métis “amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous peoples…”
And, says the inquiry, “while the Canadian genocide targets all Indigenous peoples, Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (Two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual) people are particularly targeted.”
The inquiry, which was called by the federal Liberal government after years of demands by Indigenous groups and others, was officially started in September 2016. Over the course of their investigation, the four commissioners received information from more than 2,380 people and heard the stories of 468 family members of victims and survivors.
A Statistics Canada report of 2014 found that Indigenous women are six times more likely that non-Indigenous women to be the victim of a homicide.
And a report by the RCMP that was released the same year found 1,181 cases of policed-reported murdered or missing Indigenous women dating back to 1980.
But the inquiry says those numbers do not reflect the full scope of the tragedy.
“No one knows an exact number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people in Canada,” says the report. “Thousands of women’s deaths or disappearances have likely gone unrecorded over the decades, and many families likely did not feel ready or safe to share with the National Inquiry before our timelines required us to close registration.”
In the end, the commissioners concluded that the murders and disappearances are the product of a Canadian society that has eroded the rights of Indigenous women.
The “genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide of Indigenous populations,” says the report.
As a result, say the commissioners, many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issue.
“An absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism within Canadian society, and from all levels of government and public institutions, ideologies and instruments of colonialism, racism, and misogyny, past and present, must be rejected,” they say.
In an interview this week with The Globe and Mail, Marion Buller, the chief commissioner, said she believes the scrutiny of the international community will force Canadian governments – federal provincial, territorial, municipal and
– to direct their attention to the problem.
But the report says that Canada has failed to meaningfully implement the international declarations and treaties that affect the rights of Indigenous women, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“The Canadian legal system fails to hold the state and legal actors accountable for their failure to meet domestic and international human rights and Indigenous rights obligations,” say the commissioners.
In addition, they say in the report, the Canadian state has displaced Indigenous women from their traditional roles in governance and leadership and replaced their influence with patriarchal governance models.
All governments, in partnership with Indigenous people, should implement a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people that ensures “equitable access to basic rights such as employment, housing, education, safety, and health care…” says the report.
And all governments, it says, should direct resources to eliminate the social economic and political marginalization of Indigenous women.
The inquiry makes 231 recommendations pertaining to human rights, culture, health, human security, justice, media, health service providers, the transportation and hospitality industries, police services, lawyers and law societies, educators, social workers, resource-development industries, the Correction Service of Canada, and Canadians in general.
It calls on Canadians to “denounce and speak out” against the violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, to learn the true history of Indigenous peoples, and to hold all governments accountable to act on the inquiry’s calls for justice.
The commission had its difficulties.
It took a long time to hear its first witness. Some of the families of missing and murdered women withdrew their support, citing a lack of communication and insufficient ceremonial protocols. Justice Buller herself said the inquiry was hampered by federal bureaucracy. And a two-year extension she requested from the government was denied.
In addition, some of those who lost loved ones were disappointed in the limited scope of the government-prescribed mandate to uncover the systemic issues that cause Indigenous women and girls to become victims of crime.
Darlene Rose Okemaysim-Sicotte, whose cousin Shelley Napope went missing in the early ‘90s and who was part of a family advisory circle that provided advice to the inquiry, said the commissioners paid special attention to the fact that “the families have lived [through] experiences of a failing system.”