The Native Women’s Association of Canada said it believes the approach taken by the federal government in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is “fundamentally flawed,” and the organization has instead released its own plan.
At a virtual news conference on Tuesday, the NWAC said its plan includes 65 actions it will take to address the 231 calls for justice released by the commission in June, 2019.
The measures, which are budgeted at $30-million annually, include what are described as “resiliency lodges” that would provide health, wellness, language and cultural programs for Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people. The plan also includes justice initiatives, such as developing training for police focusing specifically on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and gender-based violence against Indigenous women.
During the news conference, NWAC president Lorraine Whitman said that the organization initially had huge hopes when the final report was released that real action would be taken on its recommendations.
“We were at the forefront of the calls for a national inquiry,” Ms. Whitman said. “We provided input to that inquiry.”
Instead, she said, NWAC had to withdraw from the work that the government and other Indigenous organizations were doing. Ms. Whitman said she explained the decision in a letter last week to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
“We believed that the approach that they were taking is fundamentally flawed and inconsistent with the 231 calls for justice,” she said.
The release of NWAC’s plan comes ahead of the federal government’s announcement, expected Thursday, of an overview of a national action plan in response to the inquiry.
NWAC said that during the course of its work, the federal government created a number of committees with Indigenous representatives to provide input to that plan, but that the organization was denied a seat on key working committees where the main ideas were formulated.
Ms. Whitman said this meant that NWAC was “shut out” of major decision-making processes. Members of the organization were “subjected to lateral violence” and hostility at committees they were permitted to sit on, she added.
“It eventually reached levels that forced us to walk away,” Ms. Whitman said, adding NWAC still wants to work with the government and other parties on the issue. “It is time to put the calls for justice into effect.”
Ms. Bennett’s office said Tuesday that the development of the national action plan is a priority for the federal government and that federal, provincial, territorial, municipal and Indigenous governments were part of efforts to address the issues highlighted by the national inquiry.
Spokesperson Ani Dergalstanian also said that the government greatly appreciates NWAC’s work on the issue and hopes to continue to working with the organization on concrete measures to help affected families and survivors.
The opposition critic for Crown-Indigenous Relations, Conservative MP Jamie Schmale, said it is “shocking” that the Indigenous women engaging in the government’s process felt so unsafe that felt they had to abandon their work on the effort.
“Under Justin Trudeau, the Liberal government has a record of preferring symbolism to real action, and it comes as no surprise that the [Native] Women’s Association has walked away from the table to focus on a more results-oriented approach,” Mr. Schmale said in a statement.
Lindsay Mathyssen, the NDP critic for Women and Gender Equality, said in a statement that she is “deeply disappointed” by the Liberal government’s inability to work constructively with the NWAC and Indigenous women on an action plan.
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